COVID-19 has highlighted many flaws and inadequacies. It has also shone the spotlight on innovators and new processes while allowing us glimpses into what the future could look like. Where is the healthcare ecosystem heading?
500 percent. This is the percentage increase in online medical consultation between March 1st and May 31st in India according to a report released by Practo. In terms of pure numbers, this translates to roughly five crore Indians, of which 80% were first-time tele-patients, resulting in a 67% drop in in-person visits. Although only 7.5% of all online consultations were related to COVID-19, the virus may be attributed to this digital trend.
What could this possibly mean?
Mr. Vikram Thaploo, CEO, Apollo TeleHealth said, “During the pandemic, we have seen a 300% rise in teleconsultations through our various initiatives. This is going to grow further as people have started accepting digital health as the next frontier in medicine. In the future, we expect only patients who require interventions to make a visit to the hospital. Regular consultations will move to the virtual space, making it easier for all the stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem.”
It’s no secret that technology comes at a cost. And with wearables and smartphones growing in popularity, healthcare monitoring becomes much easier. On this topic, Vikram added, “Technology is a one-time cost, which makes it more cost-effective over a period of time. Choosing the teleconsultation route for single-patient OPD visits will cut down on travel expenses. As for recurring conditions, telehealth will help cut down on the frequency of hospital visits since every problem does not necessitate a trip to the hospital. In the long run, it will help reduce the frequency of hospital admissions and re-admissions and bring down medical expenses.”
Healthcare at HOME, an aptly named company, is pioneering personalized and professional home health care in India. Their service provides on-the-fly hospital-grade home setups which include both the human element, i.e, doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, nutritionists, attendants, etc, and the technological one including oxygen cylinders, a bed and air mattress, monitors and so on. Modern technological prowess also allows for X-rays and ECGs to be done from home.
“Truth be told, only a few things apart from surgeries need hospitals in 2020”, says Mohammed Adil Hussain, Unit Head, Healthcare at HOME.
Talking about the current case trends and expectations, he added, “There was a huge increase in our single-visit services like chemotherapy from home. I think whoever has taken our healthcare at home service during the COVID-19 times will continue to choose home treatment because they’ve seen the associated comfort and cost savings first hand.”
In addition to moving setups home, teleconsultation will also be a cornerstone of healthcare. Why? Well, teleconsultation has a few inherent advantages. Slotted appointment schedules permit individual patients to spend quality time with their doctors in a comfortable setting, away from a queue of other patients. And as someone who once diagnosed 60-80 patients every two hours, Harshit Jain, Founder & CEO, Doceree, adds “With the new GoI health initiative, I expect teleconsultation to become more popular. Soon every doctor will have a digital signature and the capability to write e-prescriptions. This would go a long way in decongesting our healthcare delivery systems and improving our healthcare system.”
The overnight shift into hyper digitalization has also opened the gateway to new ventures and microsystems within the healthcare space. One of the key issues plaguing the pharmaceutical world is credible, product information available at a convenient time for the doctors/medical professionals. That’s where Doceree comes in.
When asked about the venture, Harshit said “What Doceree offers is democratization within the seller ecosystem. Our service helps facilitate better business by creating a better structure within the supply-demand chain for health products and drugs. What was conventionally done by a sales rep, now requires zero feet on-ground.” Being part of an online world also offers multiple benefits, the biggest of which is international reach. Today, anyone can reach out to all doctors in the country, but with Doceree, the same reach can be accomplished from a single platform.
Doctors are humans too, and they too have a digital footprint. As a result, pharma and drug makers can reach individual doctors by their respective specialization. A robust digital network of doctors and pharma companies means better communications and access, reduction in fraudulent data and unethical sales practices, and overall ease for all stakeholders in the ecosystem.
That’s just one example of a new space being created by the push towards adopting digital technologies. No one is batting for robots over humans, but this does not mean humans should be forced to do laborious or precise tasks. However, it’s not all about technology. Other stakeholders in the market need to innovate on their processes too.
Vikram adds, “A shift is a definite possibility. The move towards a contactless future has been a long time coming. Hospitals might end up becoming exclusively interventional spaces. The current tech platforms can support the shift of pre-hospital OPDs to the virtual space entirely, and re-hospitalization and post-hospitalization will move into the home ecosystem.”
Adil says, “Right now the entire ecosystem works in a way that insurance can only be availed only at select hospitals. But coronavirus has changed things. Because of COVID-19, the IRDAI (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India) allowed coronavirus patients to claim any home treatment costs. As a result, insurers have seen a lot of value in-home healthcare as lower bills mean significant savings for insurance companies as well.”
Ensuring all players are equipped for the post-pandemic era is a necessity for businesses to continue. What’s necessary to know is that we’re still not in the “new normal”. The new normal will take some time to get to. But there are certain truths to “being human”. One of them is “we cannot go back to old technology”, and this might prove key in determining the future. The ‘new normal’, when it does get here, will provide plenty of new and exciting opportunities. “Earlier brands never had a relationship with the customer. Previously, only sales reps had relationships with doctors. Now, brands will be built for the first time – this has never happened before,” concludes Harshit.