Information technology should be taken as investment not as an expense, opines Chhitiz Kumar, CEO, Philips Capital India, and Head, Govt Affairs-PPP in a tªte- -tªte with Romiya Das of Elets News Network (ENN)
How do you see information technology changing the healthcare scenario in the country?
The biggest change we can see now is that healthcare is headed from hospitals to homes and in the hands of the individuals. That is a big change happening on a macro level. People are not there just for the treatment purpose, wellness is becoming equally important today. Wellness is either carried at home, be in terms of recovery or the preventive side of it. Technology is clearly enabling all of this. If you recollect, earlier people used to visit path labs for tests and then probably go in the evening to collect the reports, some 15 -20 years back. But now, the scenario is entirely different: the pathology labs provide services to collect blood samples from patients’ home. They ask for the email ID of the patient and by evening, one can just visit their email and download the reports. There are lots of changes happening in the healthcare and wellness segment, thanks to an increasing trend to leverage technology. We see the trend getting bigger and bigger in the times to come.
How does IT help in addressing the rising medicare costs, improving productivity and quality in healthcare?
IT brings in a lot of efficiency leading to substantial reduction in the cost. The shift in the way one would submit ones blood sample and obtain the reports digitally could be one of the many such changes. With IT delivering reports digitally to the patients, it saves their visit time and travel cost to and from the labs.
Technology is escalating big time; for instance, it is difficult to get a radiologist in Tier II or Tier III cities. Patients have to travel to metro cities to get their scans done with a reputed radiologist. Here, technology acts as a boon as the patients can get their scan done at their local medical centre, which can be examined by some reputed radiologist in a metro city. The patient is assured of the quality of the report and he/she does not have to travel long distances. In India, nearly 70 per cent of the population lives outside metros. This is why, the healthcare cost becomes a major factor, in case a family member takes ill and others have to accompany him all the time during his treatment period. In such a condition, eICU provides an additional layer of critical care service. These are just a few instances where IT has really helped people save both on time and expenses.
What, according to you, are the challenges a solution provider has to face in this sector?
The investments in IT are beneficial for the healthcare sector. But most of the hospitals implementing technology solutions expect quick returns. However, the gestation period for getting the returns could be much longer than what they want it to be. These have to be looked upon as investments and not expenses. These are investments to be made today for reaping benefits in the future. If one wants to scale the healthcare, it simply cannot be done with pen and paper. Clearly, there is a need to make right investments in the right areas.
Medicine as a practice is becoming far more integrated now. If we talk about clinical solutions, one would find a lot of diagnostics and therapy coming together, and the investments have to be made from that perspective. Those investments need to be made keeping in mind a larger time frame and not for short-term gains.
Most of the hospitals implementing technology solutions expect quick returns. However, the gestation period for getting the returns could be much longer than what they want it to be
Secondly, from the solutions point of view, at times the solution providers do not take into account the crucial factor of change management, which is necessary to deliver a power-packed solution. There is a need to train the staff to help them get into the groove. A lot of handholding is required on those lines, which currently I do not think too many solution providers are doing to help the hospitals deliver better. They just implement the solutions and move out, which shouldn’t be the case.
What are the recent technological innovations by Philips Healthcare to scale up rural healthcare?
We came up with handheld ECG, which can be remotely connected. It can come very handy for general physicians (GPs) in the field. With numerous centres of excellences in cities, GPs can get the ECG reading done from there to figure out the seriousness of the case. The challenge is that most of the GPs do not know how to read an ECG on this device. It is a small handheld device, which can be used by GPs apart from their stethoscope. One can use the ECG device on someone complaining of chest pain to gauge the seriousness of his discomfort. As it costs less, it also makes it highly affordable for the masses.
There are quite a few other initiatives undertaken by the company. There is an IT platform developed by us to identify the high-risk pregnancies. For example, India gives birth to the largest number of children every year. Now, with shortage of doctors, one cannot expect all the deliveries to be handled by someone single-handedly; there is a need to have solutions enabling midwives to handle low-risk pregnancies, while doctors would probably take care of the high-risk ones. Right now, we are piloting it in a few districts. These solutions have already been tried outside India, and the outcomes have been quite encouraging. Now we need to test it under Indian conditions to see if it works well for us, too.