Vinod N Sawantwadkar, CEO, Jehangir Hospital shares his thoughts on the ways to hasten the pace of the digital journey of Indian healthcare. Edited excerpts:

Has India’s health care system embarked on a purely digital journey?

Not completely, but serious efforts are being made in this direction in the recent past, both by government and private players. Government initiative of Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) is a big move in this direction. It’s successful implementation will need collaboration among all stakeholders which includes providers, allied private entities, healthcare professionals, nonprofit organisations, administrators and policy makers to make it user friendly and mutually beneficial. Many private players are on digital journey including our hospitals (Jehangir Hospitals, Pune), but most of the private sector that runs a majority of secondary, tertiary, and quaternary care facilities are largely concentrated in and around tier 1 and tier 2 cities, which leaves a huge space unaddressed.

Few areas, if given timely focus, can bring in speedy growth to the digital journey of Indian healthcare. This includes, digitalizing archived health records, enabling healthcare professionals to create digital health records going forward, rationalising price point of various healthcare technology solutions.

How do you see the role of technology in pre-and post covid healthcare?

Technology in pre-covid was largely inward-looking and focused on record keeping, and now the situation has forced healthcare providers to take an outside-in approach. Today technology is enabling healthcare providers to engage directly with patients to deliver a service. Teleconsultations, contactless process for check-in, AI chatbot, remote patient monitoring etc. have seen widespread adoption across the healthcare system.

What are the various technologies and tools you see making a difference in the healthcare segment in the coming times?

Technologies which are going to provide personalised care, real time monitoring, assist in collaborating with patient and healthcare providers, better clinical outcome and patient comfort will enjoy long and healthy stay in healthcare. I see new age technological solutions like non/less Invasive diagnostics, virtual/remote monitoring systems, telemedicine, IoMT, AI, robotic tools, data mining and management, patient mobile apps, 3D printing etc. has a potential to contribute to the growth story of Indian healthcare.

How can technology be used to strengthen the health infrastructure in a country like ours?

Technology will play a vital role in knitting the Indian healthcare ecosystem to make it transparent, accessible, and affordable. Looking at some facts, approximately 65% of the doctor’s population is operating in urban areas and approximately 65% of our country’s population is residing in rural areas. Basic ratio of doctors, nurses and hospital beds to per 1000 population is far below and will take a long time to come closer to 70 to 80% WHO compliance. Usage of technology to improve access to healthcare with a combination of telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, AI and ML can help reduce the burden on clinical staff by automated differential diagnosis/ triage. These certainly can be quick fix to help in bridging the gaps and strengthening the healthcare delivery system.

What are the policy initiatives you foresee in the Health IT space that will create a healthcare system of the future?

Government is in the process of creating digital public goods infrastructure for healthcare. It will include a digital health ID, provider and facilities registry, data standardizations, electronic health records on the integrated health information platform, which can be shared with the patient’s consent. Once the envisaged system is in place, it will have a huge impact on the ecosystem. It will lead to a realignment of relationships between all the stakeholders. As it is often said, those who are best prepared will perform extremely well in the new reality. The government may offer incentives to stakeholders for early adoption to put in place robust, scalable, and reliable healthcare IT platforms and adoption of technology in healthcare.

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