The rapid penetration of newer technologies in healthcare has become the latest trend across the globe. Healthcare has readily adopted internet as one of the latest technology tools that can enhance the delivery and reach of healthcare to the masses. Just at the click of a button, a user can have access to a gamut of healthcare services being offered by various online healthcare providers, now-a-days. As traditional healthcare delivery models make way for alternate resources, online healthcare has unlimited scope, considering the widespread usage of internet services.
As per current statistics, there are around 1.734 billion internet users, across the world and Asia accounts for almost 43 percent of the total internet users, which is the highest compared to any other region. In India alone these numbers are growing by leaps and bounds with Department of Telecom’s target of adding 20 million new high speed internet connections by 2010. Further, the Ministry of Communication and IT is setting up community service centres at various rural locations across India. The numbers imply the immense potential that internet has in terms of being a tool for communication, and access, sharing and exchange of information. In America, also, the trend of online healthcare kicked pace much earlier and currently there are hundreds of online health providers, as per the American Health Information Management Association.
The growing awareness about such services is helping people avail faster and hassle free healthcare services. People are logging on to online health portals for scheduling appointments with healthcare providers, consultations, treatments and availing advice on various health issues. Additional services offered by online health portals range from creating and maintaining personal health records to selling health insurance policiesï¿½the list of services is unlimited. The sheer convenience of such services is one of the major factors leading to the rising popularity of online healthcare in India. There has been a gradual change in mindset as even traditional healthcare providers are now moving towards offering services through the internet. Most experts also consider online health portals as a complementary tool for consultation rather than an alternative.
Although healthcare needs still require visiting a doctor, it is still worthwhile to have minor issues sorted out virtually. By enabling patients to videoconference with their physicians and allowing doctors to have immediate access to the patient’s medical record, online healthcare services can become a new conduit for exchange of health information. In addition to the various advantages it offers to the patients, online healthcare is also beneficial for physicians as they can put in extra hours and make themselves available from their homes, as well. For insurance companies, the benefit lies in the fact that online healthcare is able to shift health delivery from the more expensive sites, the hospital or clinic, to a cheaper online option.
Although the benefits are plenty, yet online healthcare is faced with certain issues that cannot be ignored. Maintaining the confidentiality of the patient data and medical records and providing patients adequate assurance on this is one of the biggest issues. It is also essential to comply with all the government requirements and regulations before plunging into the online healthcare space, although in India this might not have such a major impact owing to the lack of standards and regulations. A big hassle would be to protect online medical frauds to ensure the credibility and quality of care being offered. Medical frauds in total account for a loss of almost USD 60 billion a year.
To keep a check on this, President Barack Obama, in the USA, has increased the budget for combating medical frauds by 50 percent. While medical frauds or quacks exist even in the real medical space, preventing them to enter the virtual medical space will be even more difficult. In fact, as per a study, patients/end-users also avoid online information coming from an unknown source as compared to information coming from a recognized authentic source.
As the demand for healthcare services increase tremendously surpassing the availability of trained resources, online healthcare is expected to have a bright future. In such a scenario, hospital and healthcare units throughout the world will shift their focus on making more effective use of their staff to enhance their services. Online healthcare will prove to be an easy, safe and efficient option to achieve this. All in all, the coming years will be more dynamic as the healthcare industry prepares itself to take on the changes in the way
health is delivered through adopting online models.
Perspective on the emerging online healthcare services space in India
A billion plus Indian population, over the next few years, will be empowered to purchase health insurance owing to rise in state and central Government health insurance programs and penetration of health insurance in the middle class population. The future demands increase in efficiency and decrease in cost. We have seen how online services have revolutionised delivery of services in communication, banking, trading and transport industry, which again cater to a vast population. Healthcare too needs to adopt best practices from other industries.
Consumers can now book air, movie, and bus tickets online, but we still need to call a hospital/physician to book an appointment, which increases administrative cost to hospitals with service being restricted to working hours. A real-time appointment management system would offer consumers the flexibility of self scheduling their appointments reducing their waiting time. Hospitals need to adopt online services to make registration, billing, and discharge processes faster. Access to medical records at a single click for consultants, as well as patients helps deliver quality care and avoid medication errors by quickly reviewing past medical history. The end goal of the healthcare ecosystem in India, to adopt online healthcare services, should be focusedÂ on providing benefits to the citizens at a transactional level and easy availability of personal healthcare information in a high secured way.
Online health services offered
We are the largest healthcare data exchange network in India. We were also one of the 1st healthcare IT companies to offer services on a SaaS model. Healthcare has become very complexï¿½payors and providersÂ Â really do need to work in tandem to satisfy consumers and maintain profits. We provide a multi-payor collaborative e-health platform that reduces complexity and improves interactions and relationships.
Our health insurance claims network is aimed to obviate the administrative burden of all those phone calls and faxes. We’ve seen positive feedback and results from the 750+ healthcare providers and 8 health insurance payors in India, who use our i-sprint Cloud computing and data exchange services.
We also provide a complete hospital management solution with a connectivity to payors delivered on a cloud which reduces the burden of small and medium size hospitals investing in IT infrastructure. We presently transact 20,000 online appointments a month, and we expect this number to reach a million transactions a month by end of this year with our real-time appointment scheduler. We are confident that our e-health services will improve efficiencies as well as deliver a foundation for comprehensive national health information exchange.
Business/revenue model and major clients
Recent eHealth platform deployed for Star Health & Allied Insurance Company Ltd for the Govt. ofÂ Tamil Nadu
The government of Tamil Nadu has launched one of the largest health insurance schemes in IndiaÂ called the “Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kalaignar’s Insurance Scheme for Life Saving Treatments.” The scheme covers approximately 40 million population of the state and the insurance carrier for this program is Star Health. The transaction portal was deployed for convenience of accessing medical records, claims and conducting their health insurance transactions online on a 24X7 basis.
The vision of Star Health management was to provideÂ customers an integrated multi-channel experience, completely paperless and smart card integrated for identityÂ management. The platform increased process efficiencies leading to lower transaction cost.
The entire membership data
of the population along with demographics and biometric data are stored at the central data centre infrastructure. The financial and medical data are tagged with the membership information as a record in an appropriate workflow since the program runs for a period of 4 years. The information pertaining to any citizen covered in the program is accessed via a smart search engine built in for quick retrieval.
We partnered with IBM for designing and deploying the data centre infrastructure for high availability and disaster recovery. The solution offers robust proven technology, energy-smart design delivering high performance computing for the workloads for over 1000 concurrent users. The unified storage solution is deployed to have 24×7 accessibility of secure and reliable healthcare data with business continuity.
Highly efficient storage density with software management provides smarter processing of the data information with quick access over the high speed network. Since the whole program is paperless, customer web experience and user interface were some of the key attributes.
In this program hospitals using the platform range from the largest hospital chains to small nursing homes in districts and towns.
We were given the challenge of training 600 hospitals across the state and the claims management team in 45 days. We delivered, deployed and got this program running paperless in record time. Star Health has chosen us as a technology partner for a period of 5 years among other short listed large IT players in India considering our technology capabilities, team strength and passion.
Perspective on the emerging online healthcare services space in India
The fragmented state of the healthcare services in India today leaves a lot of room for innovation and a potential for aggregation from a patient’s perspective. The online medium offers an unmatched ubiquity and convenience for people with access to the medium. The broadband penetration in India has doubled in the last year and that is good news for the industry.
The patient today has a variety of choices and needs help in making his healthcare decisions. From purchasing a car to investing into a mutual fund, most of the research today is being done online and the shift is happening in the healthcare space, as well. There is a growing trend amongst users to come online to research a particular symptom, look for treatment options, compare pricing, and make their own healthcare decisions in general.However, I don’t expect these services to be a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a doctor, at least in the short-term. Having said that, the online healthcare services fill in a lot of missing links for a discerning consumer, who is seeking health information. The key is to personalize and ‘Indianize’ the content for the user. As long as one can give the right information to the user at the right time and in the right manner, the space would continue to grow.
Online health services offered
Our venture, Healthizen, is a personalized consumer healthcare platform which enables a user to store his/her health and medical records online (www.healthizen.com), creates unique profiles based on these records, and then provides the individual with personalized healthcare solutions including recommendations, products, services, and interventions, if required. We provide services ranging from personalized diet and lifestyle consultation to home health checkups, second opinions from medical experts, and management of diseases and conditions to our consumers, based on their health profiles.
Involvement of stakeholders
We also collaborate with healthcare providers including doctors, hospitals, diagnostic and pathology labs and pharmacies to provide electronic medical record (EMR) solutions to them, which take care of the pain-points end-to-end, including digitization of their records as well as patient relationship management (PRM).
While on one hand, this helps our consumers to aggregate their data into their health account from all these healthcare providers, on the other, it provides a revenue upside for the healthcare providers since our users stick to them on account of availability of such services. It also helps our network of healthcare providers to provide additional services to their patients so as to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
We also help some of our partnering healthcare providers to take their service offerings online so as to reach a larger base of consumers at a cost that is much lower as compared to what they would have had to spend otherwise. This is a win-win situation for both, the consumer as well as the healthcare providers.
Business/revenue model and major clients
We work extensively with regional and national healthcare brands to help them structure consumer engagement programs for a targeted set of users. Since our platform understands the consumer profiles, it provides a very good RoI for these brands. Our users are similarly benefited since these products/services fulfil their health requirements and are happy to be a part of these programs.
We also provide patient therapy management programs to large pharmaceutical companies to help them reach out to the doctors and patients with a disease management package as compared to only medication.
To maintain footprint
Legal and regulatory issues in online healthcare in India A key issue facing online healthcare services today is that the doctor cannot prescribe online, which limits the usage and effectiveness of an online doctor consultation facility. Also, confidentiality and privacy of the health data is one of the major concerns amongst patients and healthcare providers alike. At Healthizen, we realize this and have structured our offering as well as our policies to take care of this. We have well-defined access rights built in our framework, controlled by the patient for his medical records, and by the healthcare providers for the records that they have generated and stored. We use a Microsoft Secure Server for storing the data and have built in audit logs for access to the system.