Year 2021 was a roller coaster year for the healthcare sector as India faced the devastating second wave of the COVID virus. The healthcare sector was overwhelmed with the number of cases that India faced and the rising number of people who needed assistance from healthcare service providers to survive. The domain overcame challenges with the help of technology and Public-Private Partnership.
One of the major transformations in the way healthcare services were provided was seen with the emergence of teleconsultation services. Seeking patient care online was already on the rise when pandemic struck the country, further amplifying the reach of telehealth services. Government’s telemedicine programme e-Sanjeevani registered record numbers of users seeking healthcare services, reaching remotest regions of the country. As we see more services being provided remotely with the onset of digitization, Telehealth is set to witness a further rise in usage.
Speaking on the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) that helped healthcare sector provide better patient care, Nikkhil K Masurkar, Executive Director, Entod Pharmaceutical said, “The healthcare market can increase three-fold to Rs. 8.6 trillion (US$ 133.44 billion) by 2022. In 2020, in a very short period, COVID-19 became an unparalleled disruption to every area of the healthcare industry. The overall response to the pandemic witnessed both the private and government sector working in tandem. The private Indian healthcare players rose to the occasion and have been providing all the support that the government needs, such as testing, isolation beds for treatment, medical staff and equipment at government COVID-19 hospitals and home healthcare. The healthcare industry, along with the central and state governments, undertook a robust response plan to tackle the pandemic by setting up dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, isolation centers and tech-enabled mapping of resources. Despite initial hiccups, the healthcare system in India managed to withstand the pandemic. The different efforts in manufacturing of medical equipment, disposables, drugs and the most recent vaccine efforts made by India has placed us as a global leader.”
Talking about the growing opportunities and rising inculcation of technologies in healthcare, he added “Primary healthcare has become accessible to the needy and poor through digital interventions. Even in areas like clinical trials, there is less intervention in terms of human repetitive reviews due to use of technological tools like Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Indian healthcare sector is diversifying and opportunities are emerging in every segment, be it providers, payers or medical technology. With growing competition, organizations are cognisant of new challenges and are looking to explore the latest business dynamics and trends impacting their segment. India is full of opportunities for players in the medical devices industry. The country has also become one of the leading destinations for high-end diagnostic services with tremendous capital investment for advanced diagnostic facilities, thus catering to a greater proportion of population. The country’s competitive advantage lies in the increased success rate of Indian companies in getting Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) approvals. India also offers vast opportunities in R&D as well as medical tourism. After the pandemic, governments and organizations are more focused towards building digital infrastructure and preventive healthcare which will surely pave the way to a brighter future for the healthcare industry in the years to come.”
Elucidating on how India produced the required number of medical devices and used technology to overcome shortage challenges, Ashok Patel, CEO and Founder, Max Ventilator said, “Even as Covid-19 has led to the rise of diagnostics and equipment along with an impressive rise in virtual and homecare-driven device segments, there has been an increased emphasis on making low-cost lifesaving devices such as ventilators and oxygen concentrators. Speaking especially of ventilators, from now onwards, the rule of 4 beds per ventilator will become more of a reality. With telemedicine and app-based online pharmacies becoming more of a constant surrounding our daily lives spurring innovations in related devices and equipment, the coming year will also see more action in big data, AI and machine learning-based disease prediction technologies, apart from a push to more sophisticated surgical devices meant for a range of conditions such as neurological, cardio-vascular, oncological, orthopedic or musculosketal conditions.”
Highlighting that the healthcare sector is now looking towards deploying better quality medical devices, he added, “For AI-based ventilators to become a reality, more time would be needed. While make-in-India has gained momentum with the view to become more self-reliant, the Chinese products have received a setback. This means that quality will determine the entry of new products and more rigorous quality checks will increasingly become a norm. The coming year will also see major investment and focus on medical device components and parts in the country. At the same time, given the surging omicron cases outside India and a repeat of the same not totally being out of question in India, Covid-related devices and equipment will continue to remain a focus of attention of manufacturers in the country in the coming year.”
The pandemic brought the healthcare sector into sharp focus, also highlighting its shortcomings and the lack of prepared infrastructure for an emergency situation. Hospitals and healthcare services however, significantly expanded their range of their services to enable better patient care and ensure a safer health infrastructure for future emergencies.
Commenting on the improved patient care at hospitals and its future, Dr. Avinash Supe, Director Clinical Governance and Head, P.D. Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre said, “Offerings of hospitals have significantly expanded- in terms of lifestyle modification, dedicated cardiac care post Covid recovery and expanding the testing facilities at hospitals for Covid-19. This has also led to re-aligning the hospital infrastructure to ensure the required isolation protocols and make room for innovative and safe patient care delivery. From the Government perspective, there definitely is an urgent need to increase the budget allocation for healthcare from the current 1.3 percent to a minimum of three percent of GDP, if not more. In terms of outlook, the year 2022 seems very promising for healthcare where the sector will witness planned investments, re-alignment of priorities and robust innovation which will be the way forward for the industry’s consistent progress and sustainability.”
The challenges in front of the health sector were huge and are still rising with the discovery of new variants and the surge in cases. The healthcare infrastructure however is now better prepared to tackle a possible third wave than it was during the months of April-May, when the second wave caught the health sector off-guard.
Speaking on lessons learnt by the healthcare sector from the pandemic, Dr H S Chhabra, Director, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre said, “The year 2021 was a challenging one for India’s health sector, as the lethal second wave of coronavirus struck. As a result, an unprecedented number of people lost their lives and there was unparalleled suffering for countless others. It did, however, serve as a valuable lesson for the entire healthcare industry, leading to the resurrection and upgrading of health infrastructure in both the public and private sectors. We not only have a completely functional oxygen plant but are also now fully equipped to face new challenges, such as Omicron, with a team of experienced doctors and paramedical staff.
Dealing with the pandemic has been a mixed bag for healthcare experts and as the new year approaches, health experts advise against taking the COVID virus and its variants lightly and following all precautions to prevent the overburdening of the healthcare system. The continuous observation of social distancing measures, wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene and adhering to all the guidelines issued by the government can not only reduce the burden of medical workers, but can also help in getting out of the pandemic together.