Healthtech Needs to go Beyond Metros to Impact Rural and Remote Areas
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The Medical Council of India data alarms us with the huge gap in the doctor-patient ratio where there is only 1 doctor available for every 2000 citizens in the country. However, records by AMA show that 70% of all non emergency consultations can be handled remotely through a telemedicine consult.
With the power of having the third largest internet user base in the world where the 3G user base touches 284 million and 4G user base is growing at 344% annually, healthtech is shaping up to be a prospective sector. Mobile based telemedicine programs are easy to use and has proven its value in a variety of healthcare specialties and settings for patient follow ups, second opinions and primary healthcare visits.
Why remote areas need attention
An average urban patient typically spends around 4 hours in traffic along with the waiting room time to speak to a specialist at a hospital, not to mention the loss of pay and productivity at work. But in rural areas it gets worse, with patients sometimes spending more than Rs 5000 and anywhere between 1 to 3 days to travel to a city to talk to a specialist which could have been handled from his native area.
Healthtech companies need to address this challenge where a patient from a remote village like Diggaon in Gulbarga district can speak to a Cardiologist sitting in a metro city, and similary a psychiatrist from Delhi can give consultation to a distressed IT employee from Bangalore round the clock
Benefits of such technology
Healthtech plays a very important role in the supplemental management of chronic conditions. Globally there is already widespread acceptance of telemedicine for its usefulness to impact routine care for common, uncomplicated, non-emergency medical problems related to sinus, respiratory infection, allergies, urinary tract infection, cold and flu symptoms and many other non-emergency illnesses.
Telemedicine is moreover complimentary to an actual clinic visit for patients who can use it to for pre-visit and post-visit consults. Currently, not only do rural areas in India have acute shortage of general practitioners to address their issues, but patients also have to spend more in travel related expenses.
Also by integrating and leveraging patients data from critical vitals measuring devices such as ECG, SPO2, NIBP, temperature and more, the quality of diagnosis via telemedicine can be very accurate for enabling remote healthcare.
Apart from the availability of specialists, implementing a successful telemedicine program in rural areas rests greatly on two, factors namely internet speed and cost effective mobile devices. With the high market penetration of 4G enabled smartphones priced below Rs 3000 and low tariffs, along with high penetration of broadband and 3G/4G data services, it is just a matter of time until people can reap the benefits of such ventures.
Government backing is key
The government needs to step in with a solid mission and vision to drive universal health coverage, create the required infrastructure with good network connectivity and devices to work on a model to empower their health centres available at each and every taluk and village. Interactive healthcare kiosks can also be built and provided at various points in remote areas so people can come and avail tele-consults. This would help the poor get access to quality healthcare which in turn could help reduce health related costs on the state's exchequer.