Health care is an incredibly challenging domain. If one has good health, one often does not even think about it. And if one is unwell, nothing else matters. Given its importance, healthcare delivery has and will always high on the priority list among governments and individuals alike.
The challenge in healthcare delivery today is two-fold:
- Provide primary healthcare to the poorest of the poor, given that health is being viewed more and more as a fundamental right. This segment mostly suffers from treatable diseases (mostly infectious ones).
- Provide top-class tertiary health care to those suffering from complex diseases a large percentage of which arise due to the rapidly changing lifestyles. Most of these diseases need the involvement of specialists in the field of healthcare.
With the doctor-patient ratio in India being as low as 1: 2000 (as per a press release by the Govt of India in Nov 2011), these challenges are only getting harder. Add to it, the fact that most countries in the world have healthcare services located in a concentrated manner around certain health-care hubs, typically in metros. This makes it expensive and logistically difficult to access healthcare for most people.
And this is precisely where technology can play a huge role in leading to equitable healthcare distribution and actually fulfilling the ‘Health for all’ prophecy. From creating awareness about various health issues to actually consulting a specialist online, technology has started affecting various stages of the patient lifecycle.
Imagine a scenario where you could carry your healthcare services with you – just like you carry your mobiles and data – wherever you are. What if irrespective of your location you have access to the best doctors globally, with the best expertise in treating your particular disease, at your fingertips?
When anyone wants to learn more about a disease or some symptoms one has, he probably would turn to Google first. It is easy to find any information you’d like to. The only issue with the information on the web is that it may not be from an authentic and accredited source. And when it comes to health, an ill-informed patient is worse than an uninformed one. It is important to use sites which have credible information verified by or written by doctors.
The advent of technology has made even some of the other aspects of the patient life cycle easier now.
At its simplest form, patients can check doctors’ profiles and timings, book appointments on the websites of hospitals or clinics.
In western countries, online healthcare systems have made a big impact. Primary health and dermatology consultations are now available on internet via specialised platforms, chats, videoconferencing and online prescriptions. Some of the popular western sites include www.teladoc.com, www.americanwell.com and www.justanswers.com. Even bigger hospitals like Cleveland clinic and Mayo clinic run an online consultation service for second opinions. Though when translated to Indian currency they turn out to be expensive or the turnaround time of 4-6 weeks may not be tenable.
Newer concepts such as www.MediAngels.com – a Global eHospital, have a stated mission to make health easily available, conveniently accessible and very credible. MediAngels.com is a network of over 300 specialist doctors form over 15 countries and may well be the most super-specialized healthcare panel ever as it boasts of 93 medical disciplines/ specialties. Through MediAngels you can consult a doctor, upload your scanned reports, order blood tests and store your medical records online. Taking an expert doctor’s opinion has never been easier.
Going forward, there would be even more changes in the way doctors practice medicine as more and more technology gets integrated into healthcare delivery. Innovative new techniques like Digital stethoscopes and ECG machines have been devised so that a patient residing in a small city or a village can get an emergency opinion on time.
It’s easy to imagine that very soon the entire world will be connected via internet and this will mean greater healthcare accessibility for all. It is up to us – both the private and public sector – to use technology to great effect. Perhaps the 12th Five Year plan’s committee should have included that in their efforts to provide ‘Universal Health Coverage’.