Three years ago, I spoke to a woman in Mumbai, Maya (name changed), regarding her mother's illness. Maya was 34 years old then with a PhD in computer science and was unmarried. She has two siblings who were working in US. She used to work five years ago but was now taking full time care of her mother at home. She had practically no social life. She told me that she felt tired at her situation. I urged her to go back to work and assured her that we will take care of her mother. She was skeptical at first but we found a trained caregiver and Maya liked her in the first meeting itself. We ensured that all background checks were done and that there was always a nurse to manage the case if anything did not go as per the plan. Today Maya loves to spend her weekends with her mother and works during the week. I met her at a restaurant recently and she said that she feels much stronger in dealing with her situation now.
Maya is all around us in the form of wives, daughters or daughter-in-laws who have sacrificed their pursuits to take care of a patient at home. There are two problems with such an arrangement - firstly it undervalues a woman's contribution to her work and secondly it is still not good for the patient as often the primary caretaker at home is not trained or equipped to provide the best care. Over a period of time this leads to the deterioration of health of not just the patient but also the primary caregiver.
Healthcare access - a distant dream
This year, The World Health Organization (WHO) is observing World Health Day on April 7th, with a special focus on ensuring healthcare for all through Universal Health Coverage. This means ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access essential quality health services without facing financial hardship. But financial hardships only scratch the surface of the healthcare dilemma faced by a country such as India. The bigger challenge, or rather the more urgent one, is the lack of infrastructure to meet the inflating disease burden that already exists in our country.
Healthcare delivery in our country needs to move well beyond a patient's emergent needs, which means doctor consultations or at the other end of the spectrum, hospitalization facilities. There is a lacuna that exists, when it comes to long term patient recovery, palliative care & chronic ailment management.
Health is a combination of physical, mental and emotional fitness. A healthy society can be formed only when we pay attention to all the above-mentioned needs for every member of the society including the women in the house, who often take on the role of a primary caregiver, irrespective of their ability or qualification to meet a patient's needs.
The alternate solution
Over the recent years, startups in the healthcare space have brought about the much-needed disruption, in order to steer this industry towards not only providing better access, but also in bringing about much needed innovation in the archaic healthcare protocols that have been used so far. These innovations have led to easier doctor access, availability of qualified caregivers and eventually better patient outcomes. However, the canvas is large, and the in-roads made by startups have only just begun to create a dent in the vast landscape of challenges faced by the Indian healthcare space. Nevertheless, with more and more startups evaluating which parts of the healthcare conundrum they can help solve, the answers are emerging quite vehemently in a few areas. Some of these are:
EMR: Electronic Medical Record is the storage of all health care data and information in electronic formats with the associated information processing and knowledge support tools necessary for managing the health enterprise system. EMR has the potential to provide substantial benefits to physicians, clinic practices, and health care organizations. These systems can facilitate workflow and improve the quality of patient care and patient safety. Also, keeping digital records with an EMR system can significantly reduce the amount of storage necessary for paper-based records and thereby improve efficiency.
Home health care services: Home healthcare which is in its nascent stages now is the next big thing in the country. Home healthcare is essentially the services of a doctor, Nurse or a Caregiver at your doorstep.The home healthcare segment, which is currently valued between $2 billion to $3 billion in the country, is expected to be worth $6.21 billion by 2021.The homecare business comes as a boon for the already burdened healthcare infrastructure in India. There is significant demand-supply gap plaguing the Indian healthcare system - while India accounts for 20% of the global disease burden, it accounts for only 6% of global hospital beds and 8% share of doctors and nursing staff. Home healthcare concept complements the healthcare delivery by reducing the average length of stay, ensuring efficient utilization of existing bed capacity and reducing chances of readmission. Its advantages include cost effectiveness with excellent clinical outcomes as customers end up saving 20-50% costs as compared to regular hospital treatment depending upon the services taken.
Technology: Hospitals are frightening places to many people. But today, patient outcomes are better than they've ever been, and that's largely due to advances in technology. Surgical techniques, superior imaging, electronic health records and telemedicine have each played significant roles in improving general healthcare.The positive impact of technology in healthcare is clear. Hospitals that make a digital transition experience all of these benefits of healthcare technology, trends and innovation.
The healthcare industry in India today is at the precipice of change, be it in the areas of prevention, diagnosis, treatment or long-term care. The innovations and correspondingly the investments flowing into the sector too are coming in fast and thick. What will accelerate the process will be an ideal balance of public private partnership being forged over the next few years and an active participation of all key stakeholders in this industry to achieve the leapfrog the industry urgently requires. The universal health coverage, which is not only a long-term vision of the WHO, but one of the Indian government too, with its focus underscored during the budget, the prognosis certainly looks promising.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.