Vivek Tiwari, CEO & Founder, Medikabazaar talks about digital healthcare and its role in the growth of the sector
Before the pandemic, the digital transformation of healthcare had already begun, but the pace was steady but slow. Five years ago, projections had indicated that 40% of IoT-related technology would be health-related by 2020. Driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning, innovation in digital health technologies was increasingly taking place, but a major impact on delivery of care was yet to be visible. The pandemic changed the playing field and forced a substantial change in the delivery of care. Aspects such as EHR (electronic health records), virtual doctor consultations, mobile health, wearable technology, and digital therapeutics all came together to reshape healthcare practice and delivery.
Upswing in adoption of digital health
The adoption of digital health was a global phenomenon as it enabled access to care when there was a restriction of access to doctors due to the lockdown. The US saw a rise in telehealth from 11% in a pre-pandemic 2019 to 46% in the post-pandemic period. Closer home, the lockdown was announced in March 2020 and the months following saw a drastic drop in physical appointments, going down by 32% in the period until Nov 2020. However, online consultations jumped hugely by 300%. Another key insight was the increase in percentage of users from non-metros from 25% to 40%.
But the switch to digital was not restricted to teleconsultations. Other aspects of digital offerings enabled platforms ensuring continuity of care for patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension also took centre stage. And this acceptance of digital health tech is only going to increase. Consumers are today more accepting of and becoming comfortable of healthcare apps including medical, wellness and fitness apps that have access to personal health data. Connected devices provide healthcare professionals vital medical data in real time for a more accurate assessment of an individual’s health.
WHO’s Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025 recognizes that financial, organizational, human and technological resources need to be integrated for digital healthcare to promote health and wellbeing. This will lead to a wider adoption of smart devices across India given the robust digital infrastructure and low cost of data. The savings that digital health brings will also contribute to its growth. Digital health AI has the potential to save $150 billion annually in just the US healthcare economy by 2026.
Challenges going forward
For a smooth path to digital health, there is a need to understand the challenges that may arise. Upskilling of healthcare professionals is necessary to ensure wider adoption and normalisation of use of digital health.
Digital technologies need to deliver not just affordable but easy-to-use healthcare solutions to a growing and aging population. This segment is slow to adopt to new technologies as compared to the younger and general populace. Broad-reaching educational initiatives can help in supporting this segment.
Regulatory factors and uncertainties surrounding digital health policies and legislation impact investment in digital health. The Indian government, however, has been very supportive with policies to facilitate investment and adoption of a digital health ecosystem and also addressing the challenges of data usage, data storage, privacy and informed consent.
One aspect to be careful about is the blurring of boundaries between medical and non-medical devices as the number of apps and technologies developed for a consumer market continues to grow. For deployment in clinical settings, the next generation of AI-based digital health tech needs to be transparent, understandable, inclusive and fair to deliver improved healthcare solutions for all.
Digital Health is the future
This is just the beginning! With technology powered by AI and ML enabling integration of health data across platforms, digital health will ensure a seamless delivery of care, adding value to the health economy and a long-term positive impact on the growth and development of the healthcare sector.