Budgetary pill for tech in healthcare

Budgetary pill for tech in healthcare

India stands at the cusp of becoming the largest populated country in the world. By 2022, we will be overtaking China according to the estimates by the United Nations. The next census, to be out around 2021, will give a clearer picture of the demography of the country.

Our preparedness to make the country healthy is far from adequate. It is true India lacks infrastructure, delivery model, and resources for wider healthcare delivery. However, we also have a more acute, and worrying, shortage of qualified professionals.

Then, there is the appalling doctor to patient ratio, which stands at an overall level of 1:1596. It is estimated that at current population rates, India would require more than 2 million additional doctors by 2030 to achieve even the modest doctor to patient ratio of 1:1000. There are just 25,650 primary healthcare centres (PHCs) across India and nearly 8 out of every 100 of these function without a single doctor on the payroll. Almost 36% of these PHCs have no lab technician and more than 18 out of every 100 did not have a pharmacist.

The recent launch of the Jan Aarogya Yojna is perhaps the single most important initiative undertaken by the government in the recent decades. Despite the government’s plan to launch medical colleges like the ones instituted in Chaibasa and Koderma in Ranchi, India needs more quality educational institutes and skill-training to fill the gap.

It will also take at least a decade to have a strong workforce of qualified professionals. India surely cannot wait that long. What answers does the country have? The solution is to invest on and implement various technological innovations to help healthcare penetrate the interiors of the country.   

India produces approximately 15 lakh engineers annually, with computer sciences (CS), information technology (IT) and related streams still being the hot trends. Meanwhile, the country produces over 56,000 doctors and 1.25 lakh nurses annually. The numbers may seem impressive but with population increasing by 26 million annually, the challenge is bigger.

The doctors and nurses that are graduating get absorbed in the system. But of the total IT or CS engineers, only the top cream, around 20%, get employment. The rest are left fending for themselves. It would only benefit the medical sciences and the engineering fraternity, if the next 20% of the avenues of research and employment opportunities in public health-based technologies are created for making breakthrough innovation and India-specific models of healthcare delivery.

In 2019 and beyond, some of the domains that could be the next level focus area include the following:

Assisted telemedicine and related innovation: Assisted telemedicine shows a lot of promise also because about 70% of OPD cases do not need in-person visits as indicated by independent researches. Further statistics show that only 15-16% of the patients treated by way of telemedicine had to visit a hospital for further treatment.

Innovation in diagnostics: Here the reference is not towards high-end diagnostics. Primary level diagnostics need portable, affordable and advanced innovation and technologies that can conduct various tests at the primary level to help the local healthcare professional decide upon the best possible treatment regimen or go for referrals.

Predictive analytics and Big data: This is another domain which is providing promising results in patient prediction for improved staffing, establishing electronic health record systems, facilitating real-time alerting, using health data for national, state, and regional level strategic planning, and reducing fraud and boosting security.

IoT in healthcare: Internet of Things (IoT) in healthcare is seeing a global demand. Used in advanced facilities through remote monitoring and telemonitoring, the technology can be used to reach tier III cities and below in India. The technology also includes tracking, asset monitoring, and its maintenance, which builds on efficiency and optimisation of the assets.

Artificial intelligence: This, along with machine learning, is largely seen as the next big thing in the world of technology. From managing medical records, installing virtual assistants, to conducting repetitive jobs such as workflow and administrative tasks, the role of AI in healthcare is advancing rapidly.

Therefore, it becomes imperative that a specific budgetary allocation is made for supporting entrepreneurs, establishing research centres, and assisting organisations to come-up with pathbreaking innovations. This allocation should be clearly defined and should be additional to the healthcare budget.  

(The writer is founder, Gramin Healthcare)