The Covid-19 pandemic has revolutionised the healthcare sector like no other. It has opened up new avenues in the digital space and helped in shifting healthcare beyond the confines of the hospital to the home and from the home to a 24/7, ubiquitous access to care, driven by the mobile phone.
During the pandemic-induced lockdown, digital technology had shown the way forward and kept people across the globe connected. The tiring times also provided an opportunity for economies to realise and leverage the benefits of digital in the overall economic growth. It is certain that expanding digital activities can significantly help economies.
According to a report of the Indian Electronics and Information Technology Ministry, India can create over $1 trillion of economic value from the digital economy in 2025, with half the opportunity originating in new digital ecosystems that can spring up in diverse sectors including healthcare. Over $ 1 trillion economic value constitutes 18-23 percent of the country’s nominal GDP. A rapidly growing market for a host of digital services and applications is in the offing with such an estimated increase in economic value from India’s digital transformation by 2025. There would be huge potential for global and local businesses, start-ups, and platform-based innovators. They will be investing more in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, drones, and robotics) customised to India’s needs.
The Healthcare sector in India has been contributing immensely to the growth of the economy and digital health has taken a lead in transforming the sector especially in terms of improving quality, accessibility, and affordability. India’s country’s digital healthcare market stood at US$ 116.61 billion in 2018 and is expected to increase at a CAGR of 27.41 percent to US$ 485.43 billion by 2024.
Capital investments have shown an upward trend owing to the increasing importance of digital health and technologies. Where 53 percent angel investments were made in healthcare in 2019, the first quarter of 2020 itself witnessed a 50 percent increase in terms of volume (21 deals versus 14 deals in 2019) and 14 percent in terms of value (US$ 452 million versus US$ 398 million in the first quarter of 2019).
The government has also played its role in the digital ecosystem with the development of the National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB) and putting in place National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) to transition into integrated digital services in a comprehensive and holistic manner. Healthcare start-ups have leveraged the digital space as well and are working on technology-led service models, thereby, transforming the healthcare landscape in more ways than one. There are companies that are the new age pharmacists that threaten the removal of traditional pharmacists. Some Health tech start-ups provide value-based home healthcare services to patients who need post-acute rehabilitation services. There are some startups and their virtual care platform which seamlessly transforms the healthcare journey beyond the hospital environment as it mitigates avoidable complications, improves clinical efficiency, and enriches the patient experience.
Additionally, digital health start-ups are moving beyond the boundaries of metros and tier-1 cities to connect patients in remote parts of the country to physicians in urban areas.
The Centre had announced a very ambitious National Health Policy in 2017 and it envisaged doubling of public spending in the health sector from 1.15 % of the GDP to 2.5% by 2025. However, the budgetary allocations for health in 2018-19 and 2019-20 only witnessed a marginal increase (nearly 5%). The need to strengthen our healthcare infrastructure including digital health has been fortified with the covid-19 crisis. The healthcare sector expects the Government to start spending an extra 0.5% of GDP every year on health for the next five years.
The COVID-19 crisis taught a great lesson and spending in the sector has been witnessing a surge that was never there. Year on Year India used to spend less than even some of our neighboring countries. COVID-19 has brought to the forefront the need to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure in India. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technological disruptions and it has also given momentum to the usage of digital solutions as a viable option to conventional care delivery systems.
The global digital health market is expected to witness exponential growth and a focus on making a technology-enabled healthcare ecosystem the backbone that will benefit India in solving many existing challenges. Startups have shown early signs of success and there is no looking back from here on. Startups need to scale up solutions to meet the growing demand for ICT solutions in the healthcare ecosystem. For both post-COVID-19 economic recovery and long-term transformation, digital health would be playing a catalyzing role. The healthcare industry has now significantly evolved digitally and has been addressing the growing demand with innovation. Going ahead, India needs to invest more in digital space for improving mobile internet access, affordability, and quality to foster more widespread adoption. India needs to generate investments in digital enterprises and adequately finance digital R & D. Training digital talent and leveraging digital applications to create jobs should also be priority areas. More investments in the health start-up ecosystem will also add significant value to the creation of a new healthcare economy.