Shahid Akhter, editor, ET Healthworld, talks to Prem Sharma, Founder & CEO of DayToDay Health (DTDHI), to know more about the growing importance of patient experience that is poised to define the 21st-century healthcare.
India has started the world’s largest Vaccine drive for Covid. What would be the contribution of Digital Health in this massive vaccine drive?
It is a fact that vaccine administration to 1.3 billion people in India is a mammoth task and technologies play a critical role during the entire process. Digital support would be required for registration, vaccination center selection, slot booking, beneficiary profile, vaccination certification, and e-Health records. Through digital interventions, we would also be able to manage adverse effects, feedback, and grievance redressal mechanism. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning would be helpful in mining real-time data to assess the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines and adverse patient monitoring.
Realizing the importance of digital disruption in the vaccination programme, India had developed an Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN) in 2015. eVIN digitizes vaccine stocks and monitors the temperature of the cold chain through a smartphone application. It supports better vaccine logistics management at cold chain points. Hence, digital tools can support the central government’s Universal Immunization Programme by providing real-time information on vaccine stocks and flows, and storage temperatures across all cold chain points across states and UTs. For Covid Vaccine, the Centre has launched CO-Win, another digital platform, to plan, implement, and monitor the drive. The digital platform facilitates real-time information of vaccine stocks, storage temperature, and individualized tracing of beneficiaries. Digital health also supports providers to manage post-vaccination adverse events in a better way. Hence, not only vaccination but digital health would strengthen the entire continuum of care in post COVID period.
The global patient-consumerism and patient-centric approaches are on the rise. Do you think patient experience is vital in defining 21st-century healthcare?
The Healthcare journey is complex and full of challenges for every patient. I strongly believe that patient experience is vital in defining 21st-century healthcare. Outcomes, experiences, expectations, and support are vital components in the context. Patient experience requires all of these components to be operating at their highest levels to be successful. However, there is a gap that exists in this system. Digital Health plays a critical role in bridging the gap which exists in these areas. To guarantee good patient outcomes, hospitals need to consider everything from what could have been done before the procedure, to how patient care was handled in the hospital, to what was done after, and so on. Digital health service providers have taken up the responsibility to provide assistance and care to patients during the entire process, far beyond the short amount of time that the doctor has available to explain the care journey to the patient. A case in point is DTDHI which provides a care coaching team that explains everything to the patient in plain language, and over as much time as it takes for the patient to fully understand their care plan.
Healthcare is entirely different from the Hospitality sector. So, how does patient experience impact the delivery system?
Hospital staff are largely focused on getting everything medically correct, which can lead them to disregard their expressions and mannerisms. Some hospitals recognized this issue and, as a result, started hiring staff from the hospitality sector. They quickly found that this was not the correct solution. The hospitality experience is very different from the healthcare experience. This gap stems from the fundamental structure of healthcare. Healthcare was not designed to be overarching. If a patient has two separate problems, they are directed to go to two different places and see two different doctors. Here also health-tech recognizes that patients are often extremely anxious after leaving the hospital, and they work to alleviate patient anxiety with around-the-clock care managers or coaches.
There is a need to decrease anxiety in family members by walking them through the patient’s post-op care instructions, teaching them how to monitor the patient, and so on. Digital health service providers can help patients and their families feel taken care of, even when there are no doctors around. Keeping a patient informed is not about simply educating patients on what they should be doing; it’s also about enabling them to go the extra mile with their healthcare so that they can achieve the best possible outcome. In some ways, an informed patient is even better than a good clinician.
How do digital health service providers address the needs of critical patients?
For patients with more severe healthcare problems such as cancer, many different care episodes are overlooked in the current healthcare system - from socio-economic issues that may appear during the healthcare journey, to support for patients’ primary caregivers, to navigating the complexity of cancer regimens, and so on. Also, there are care transitions that are not accounted for, such as care coordination, patient navigation, and returning to normal life after recovery. Patients and their caregivers are currently overloaded with information, and they are left to make sense of something very complex and technical on their own. Health-tech companies can help them receive support in all these areas, from initial preparation to ongoing care and rehabilitation after recovery. They create a customized communication plan for each patient that guides them through their needs and engages both them and their caregivers every day, instead of only checking in on symptoms during scheduled visits. They also provide full transparency to patients by giving them on-demand access to their health plan, as well as helping them understand every step of their care journey.
How digital healthcare is so appropriate in a time of pandemic?
The healthcare systems in India and the world over are in dire need of support to manage asymptomatic and non-critical coronavirus patients. During the COVID-19 crisis, health tech service providers created a virtual healthcare system for the patients. Remote healthcare is an ideal solution for the nearly 80% of COVID-19 patients presenting with non-critical symptoms. It reduces the stress on hospital facilities and the risks to front-line doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals.
What were two main expectations from Health Tech Segment ?
Digital Health in the country is mainly being driven by health-tech companies and startups. A right policy push along with higher spending would pave the way for a new and robust ecosystem. The health-tech community was expecting a rational policy framework to develop sustainable business models. If I have to mention only two wishes then I would say setting up an Innovation Fund for the segment and a lower tax slab on products, services, and solutions would really give a big push to digital health. Hope the government would take such measures in times to come.