Technology accelerating healthcare innovation: Runam Mehta, CEO – HealthCube

RUNAM MEHTA

A tech-first solution is unlikely to succeed – The solution we need has to be patient-first, and tech-enabled.

India is faced with multiple issues when it comes to the rising burden of diseases. We still have not won the battle against communicable diseases and yet, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are exponentially on the rise in India. While in 1990, the top ten causes of death and disability in India were attributed to communicable diseases, more people are now dying due to non-communicable or lifestyle diseases than ever.

According to the national burden estimates of healthy life lost in India, there were about 9.7 million deaths in India and 486 million disability adjusted life years (DALYS). About three-quarters of the deaths and DALYS occurred in rural areas. The public health system in India is facing huge infrastructural gaps apart from challenges in terms of sprucing up the social determinants of health.

Availability, accessibility, and affordability of healthcare still remain largely skewed in favor of the rich and people living in urban areas. Reports suggest that lack of health equity is the single biggest barrier in India when it comes to the goal of realising health for all.

The upsurge of COVID-19 in India over the past two years has aggravated the situation. Primary healthcare which largely relies on the battery of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) suddenly found itself dithering as the spread of COVID-19 skewed the already disproportionate access to healthcare.

It is within this context that the digital health revolution in India needs to be seen. Technology aided delivery has always been branded as the answer to the healthcare challenges India faces, but COVID-19 put it firmly on the map of India’s public health scenario. Suddenly everyone is talking about it. From awareness campaigns to research to clinical diagnosis and treatment, everything went online. The mushrooming of digital health apps that support the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment at doorsteps is testimony to the fact that technology indeed can revolutionise health care.

However, what are we exactly talking about here – going digital or transforming healthcare delivery? Obviously, it is the latter with technology as the enabler. There are a plethora of apps and healthcare delivery platforms, many of which unfortunately are unable to cross the pilot stage, let alone get implemented at scale. Mapping and analysis of healthcare apps done by The George Institute of Global Health, India, recently shows that digital health innovations tend to under-address the fundamental healthcare issues due to which most of them collapse at the pilot level.

A tech-first solution is unlikely to succeed – The solutions we need have to be patient-centric, tech enabled.

Be it artificial intelligence, robotics, predictive analytics, health apps, or wearables, the solution has to improve the patient experience. There have been some good examples of technology-assisted healthcare solutions. Telemedicine, for one, has increased convenience for the patient in addressing their needs, allowing them to connect with doctors with one click and the ability to share digital reports via WhatsApp, etc. More recently, in rural India, ASHA workers using smartphones in a slew of primary health projects by different agencies – both government as well as non-government — that enable clinical appraisal and decision making has revolutionised health care delivery, ensured that more people get access to health care, and created hope for reducing the burden of NCDs in India.

So, in closing, we must set out a parameter to define technology accelerating healthcare innovation. It is not just about launching another fancy healthcare app or introducing more tech jargon, but rather everything that is being talked about here.

  • Is it a simple-to-use platform for patients and caregivers?
  • Does it improve access to affordable, quality healthcare?
  • Does it help strengthen the public health system or create an effective bridge between healthcare workers in rural areas and clinicians and doctors in urban settings?
  • Does it help in mapping disease burden so that we can understand the shift and develop appropriate responses?
  • Does it deepen the net of prevention, early diagnosis, and timely treatment?

These should be the parameters of innovation that can take us closer to the goal of health for all.

So, the next time you read or hear about a digital health solution, ask yourself is it yet another piece of fancy technology, or is the technology accelerating healthcare innovation by focusing on the pain points of the patients.

Views expressed by Runam Mehta, CEO – HealthCube

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