Chronic Disease Management in the Digital Era

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Over the last decade, India has made tremendous advancements in healthcare & achieved milestones such as eradication of polio, increase in life expectancy and decrease in infant mortality rates. However, as we make progressive strides into the 21st century, Indians have to deal with a new health burden – chronic diseases.


According to a report by Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD), non-communicable diseases or chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart ailments, respiratory diseases and diabetes, kill 38 million people globally every year, and over 20 per cent of India’s population suffers from at least one of these non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The developing world carries this burden disproportionately, with 80% of deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus and 90% of deaths attributable to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease occurring in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).

Evidence demonstrates that NCDs not only affect health and quality of life, but also productivity and economic growth. NCDs are estimated to cost India USD 6.2 trillion during the period 2012-2030. India could lose USD 4.8 trillion in lost economic output by 2030 due to NCDs. This is because it increases the probability of death during the most productive years of one’s life. Urbanisation, industrialisation and fast-paced socio-economic development are among the major factors due to which a change in policy is needed to combat NCDs. Chronic conditions should be seen as a marker of the increasing health inequalities in LMICs, highlighting the urgent need to implement more effective and cost-effective interventions.


Managing Chronic Diseases through Digital Intervention

Morbidity and mortality due to chronic disease are largely preventable through counseling, risk factor modification, and medication adherence, but implementation of these interventions is difficult in resource-limited settings. In this sense, e-health interventions have the potential to support these aims in an economically viable and sustainable way. M-health – the use of mobile telecommunication and multimedia technologies for healthcare delivery – too, has shown to improve patient–provider communication and assist in disease management. Here’s how they can help:

Self assessment & timely treatment: Most NCD cases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and others are diagnosed late, primarily due to low awareness levels and lack of early screening. Digital solutions allow patients to remotely self-assess their condition and seek medical support when required. Instant counselling, mobile technologies and real-time doctor-patient communication are all enabling new and more efficient ‘virtual care’ environments.

Better communication & error-free diagnostics: Digital devices enable communication between physicians and primary, secondary or tertiary care centres, reducing overall screening costs while enhancing communication, minimising errors and making screening possible in difficult-to-reach populations.

Anytime access to patient records: As patients become more empowered with their process of treatment, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) make patient data more accessible. This permits learning systems and constant feedback loops between the patient, the healthcare provider (HCP) and the expert medical community. The entire health ecosystem is being transformed by digital connectivity.

Curb Non-Adherence & Enable Monitoring: Only 50% of patients suffering from chronic diseases adhere to treatments. Digital systems can characterise and promote adherence to therapy, in addition to tracking fundamental behaviours, such as sleep and physiological parameters. Moreover, they aid in consistent monitoring that helps doctor assess performance and response to treatment, while also improving quality of life, reducing hospital associated costs and more importantly, providing patients with the necessary tools to become more independent in the care of their condition.

The influx of smarter devices, mobile solutions and patient-centred technologies means industry trends are evolving, and by 2020 the healthcare continuum as we know it today, will be unrecognisable. Operating in this new environment will require a new set of capabilities. Anticipation and preparedness is key for pharma, biotech and healthcare companies to succeed in this time of rapid change.