Looking at mobile enabled healthcare service, Girish Murti, Director Consulting and Pharma Vertical Leader, Capgemini India, traces its evolution while explaining the challenges that it faces as well as its prospects
The Indian healthcare Industry has grown in the recent years, contributing around $ 30 billion or five percent of the GDP. While this figure is impressive, the reality is that most Indians struggle to get basic healthcare. In terms of percentage of GDP, India spends less on healthcare services than the rest of the world. More than 70 percent of Indiaâs population living in villages doesnât have access to doctors. The health insurance coverage is also only 15 percent. The government earmarked nearly $ 55 billion for healthcare under the 12th Five Year Plan, but many believe it is not enough to meet its target of universal healthcare. Meanwhile, mobile penetration in India has increased. Prices of smartphones have come down significantly, and industries such as banking and entertainment have capitalized on it, making their services available on smartphones. The healthcare industry, however, has only recently realized the immense potential of mobiles.
It will not be wrong to say that the future of healthcare services in India is tied to the efficient use of technology. Mobility is definitely one of the most promising innovations and is poised to transform the way healthcare services reach the patient. India has witnessed significant activity in the mobile health space with the launch of several different services, however the majority of initiatives are focused on spreading prevention and awareness messages. While entrepreneurship in mobility for health continues to grow, groups like mHealth Alliance â partnership between Rockefeller Foundation, United Nations Foundation, Vodafone Foundation, GSM Association, and PEPFAR (Presidentâs Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) andÂ Health2.0 â plans conferences around IT- enabled health solutions plan to enter India and drive mobile health initiatives.
India has not lagged behind in leveraging mobility for healthcare services. From a technology perspective the transformation is seen via online databases, applications, e-hospital application, mobile apps, platforms and SMSes. Each of these play a very important role in changing the way healthcare service is perceived, received and consumed in India. Online data bases give patients the ability to check for what drugs are available in which pharmacies thereby saving them the effort to hunt for their medications. Applications enable tracking of patients medical records and ask for multiple opinions from other providers. Mobile apps track calorie intake, help manage diets and monitor fitness schedules and provide useful reports on demand. Platforms like MOTECH have transformed disease management in rural India by managing sample tracking, treatment registration and adherence, patient tracking, treatment reminders and alerts and reporting. SMS services are widely used to disseminate information on NGO/government led health care campaigns. New services like Mediphone offer a tele-triage facility for immediate care related to acute minor ailments over the phone.
What does this mean for Indiaâs healthcare providers? How will they be able to leverage these mechanisms to drive efficiency and effectiveness across the country? The answer is not simple as the factors influencing mobility for healthcare are many. The most important factor is it awareness among patients and doctors of its benefits. From an investment perspective, the demand for mobile enabled services is low and is perceived more as a value added service, with low monetization. While the number of initiatives launched are commendable, whether they prove to be sustainable, meaningful and beneficial is debatable. It will not be entirely wrong to say that all the 4 Pâs (Policy, Providers, Physicianâs and Patientâs) are vital to leveraging mHealth as a mechanism to transform healthcare services. Policy makers must develop agendas for mHealth and drive the use of mobile enabled services by public healthcare providers, while providing incentives to private providers to invest. They must also address issues about certification, standardization and interoperability. Last but not the least, sustained education, communication and recommendation from government and medical professionals is need promote it and make it affordable.
With increasing penetration and rising transmission capabilities of mobile networks, mobile technology is a robust and sustainable option. A synergy of building up healthcare capabilities, initiatives by policymakers and private businesses to build policies and business models will make this tool effective. The major challenges are the inaction from government and private business. Public healthcare services are severely underfunded and the lack trained manpower aggravates the problem. Furthermore, there is no body for healthcare IT training.
“The 4 Pâs (Policy, Providers, Physicianâs and Patientâs) can be a mechanism to transform healthcare services.”
Much remains to be done about the legislative environment relating to health data privacy and security and personal identity regulations. Mobile network connectivity is also critical, as poor network coverage would leave patients with incomplete and confusing medical advice, thereby possibly aggravating the case. Indiaâs literacy issues and its many languages further complicate content creation and delivery.
Given that mHealth is at a nascent stage, with majority of initiatives having started in the last two to three years, urgent action is needed to promote the its adoption. Multi-dimensional strategies need to be developed. Rural healthcare services can be serviced via mHealth, while the urban population that can pay for such a service needs to be encouraged. The government should arrange training programmes or courses to enhance the health workersâ skills in partnerships with private sector.
Irrespective of the multitude of barriers and challenges, mHealth continues to innovate. Some notable examples are â 3Nethra from Forus health- Eye-scanning products to tackle eye problems in advance, GetActive – a wearable medical device which helps track individualâs physical activities, Medypal – model is to offer online matchmaking services between patients and healthcare institutes , as well as provide analytic services for healthcare experts to monitor their own behaviour and reduce idle times, Medical Tablets â given to patients for the duration of their queue-waiting period to upload their data directly. Electronic medical records (EMR) can be updated in real time during bedside visits with information on patients and their medicine needs. The delivery of mHealth is also undergoing innovation, with telecom firms exploring new service models like hosted infrastructure services to reduce capital costs and leverage cloud based pay per use models, managed data security services to effectively safeguard patient data.