Digital Health: Breaking Access Barriers

Despite the deep penetration of mobile and internet in the country, there exists a huge gap between rural and urban areas in terms of accessibility. The same gap is largely prevalent with respect to healthcare accessibility. India's healthcare infrastructure is mainly absorbed in the urban areas and the rural populace has limited access to quality and affordable healthcare facilities. A shift, wherein healthcare providers collaborate with digital health players for an end-to-end patient engagement platform, should effectively fill in the demand-supply gaps.

India is battling the dual burden of communicable (including COVID-19) and non-communicable or lifestyle diseases. According to Bain & Company AAROGYA BHARAT REPORT, non-communicable diseases will cost India $6.2 trillion by 2030. If we take into account economic loss due to COVID-19, India’s financial burden will multiply several times. Therefore, digital health can drive India’s priorities in population health management. The priorities are: increasing affordability through low-cost products and services, overcoming access barriers and engaging patients through digital health, and enhancing care across the continuum through the use of Information Technology.

Tele-consultations, doctor on call, tele-radiology centers, and e-ICUs are an integral part of Telemedicine. E-Health centers are being successfully run in the country by several healthcare service providers. Health-tech service providers are now even managing lifestyle with the help of new-age applications. For example, several apps can track medication, diet, treatment, and care compliance. Digital tools are very helpful and can provide care at the ease of patients. During the COVID-19 crisis, India and the world acknowledged the critical role of digital health. For example, a large number of COVID-19 patients were treated or monitored at home with remote care.

New models, with cohesive public-private collaborations, need to be adapted to roll out high-impact public health interventions ensuring access in under-served areas and to the dis-advantaged. There are a few disruptive trends we are witnessing in the sector. For example, access is a major concern in our healthcare system. India can easily scale up schemes such as Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna (PMJAY), newly launched Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Bharat Swasth Yojna, and COVID-19 Vaccination Programme with the help of digital interventions.

To fully leverage the benefits of digital health and covering the vast geography of our country, public-private partnerships need to be promoted in each critical area. For example, the government introduced CO-WIN App for creating a robust COVID Vaccination ecosystem and during the initial phase of vaccination realized the need to rope in private sector digital health service providers to strengthen the vaccination program. Hence, the government highlighted the problem areas through the “Grand Challenge on Strengthening CO-WIN” to resolve them with the help of private players. One problem area was- How to report Adverse EventFollowing Immunization (AEFI) and Adverse Event of Special Interest (AESI) using a system. In this category, DayToDay Health India (DTDHI) emerged among the top 4 companies. A service like DTDHI's, which encompasses end-to-end patient engagement and rehabilitation solutions, could be integrated with our government's key health projects to deliver last-mile healthcare.

In a nutshell, digital technologies can help both private and public sectors healthcare service providers to improve delivery for all. Digital health is all set to transform our healthcare systems for the entire population as it has all required performance attributes of awareness, accessibility, and affordability. These attributes are vital to achieving the goal of universal healthcare coverage.

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