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Home Healthcare all Set to Transform Lives in Future Even though much of the attention today is the millennial populace, the world needs to turn its attention to this looming ageing crisis

By Meena Ganesh

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Over the past few years, home healthcare has emerged as an important part of the healthcare continuum. With the world population ageing fast, there will be more than 1.4 billion senior citizens in the world by 2030. Even though much of the attention today is the millennial populace, the world needs to turn its attention to this looming ageing crisis. India, too, is faced with a similar demographic problem with a fifth of its population coming into the elderly bracket by 2050.

Related Read: How Innovation is Paving the Way for Better Home Healthcare

With life expectancy increasing, a number of elderly people will be living with various chronic ailments, physical disabilities and mental incapacities that would require long-term medical attention and care. This is where the focus turns to home healthcare.

Tapping the True Potential

The home healthcare industry is fast-evolving growing at a CAGR of 20 per cent and is already worth $2 billion. Currently, health-tech startups in India are aiming to create lifestyle and technology products and services that cater specifically to the elderly and the ailing, tapping only a small percentage of the market. The market is gradually opening up, especially owing to greater awareness among people about the presence of these services, higher smartphone usage and Internet penetration. Services such as doctor-on-call, automated appointment scheduling system, etc., that have been evolving in developed nations since a long time are finding their way into India.

Even though home healthcare in India has found some solid ground, it still has many challenges to address. Technology adoption in the segment has been rather slow and unlike what is seen in other industries, healthcare technologies take more time to show substantial outcomes. This is mainly due to the high degree of sensitivity involved. And the fact that this segment is highly fragmented and unregulated has prevented it from expanding to its full potential in the country.

A lack of friendly policy environment and high capital requirement has restricted this industry in many ways. Strong government regulation and support by way of formalizing home healthcare can give it the necessary impetus and credibility needed to maintain the current momentum. Proper regulations can be brought in to recognize best practices from around the world so as to set minimum quality standards and accreditation rules.

Towards a Digital Future

The growing demand for home healthcare services stems from recognition of the fact that hospital care may not be a practical solution for all the needs of the elderly. Home healthcare is becoming more of a need than an option for many. Advanced medical devices have made hospital-like patient monitoring at home convenient. This industry is undergoing a gestational transformation that will deliver impactful results in the next decade. Big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning are setting the stage for some revolutionary changes in this space. With these technologies playing a critical role in disease detection management and treatment, it is sure that they will also help in optimizing service delivery and standard of care.

Chronic Disease Management

Critical care, specialized care or even palliative or end-of-life care are some aspects that the mainstream healthcare sector may not be able to address effectively in the future given the sheer number of patients and the acute shortage of hospital beds. Studies suggest that 70 per cent of healthcare needs can be met with home care, especially in case chronic ailments such as heart failure, COPD and Alzheimer's. These aspects can be better managed in a home environment provided proper qualified care is extended to patients. Especially in scenarios such as end-of-life care where nothing more than pain management can be done even at a full-fledged hospice facility, home-based care can ensure peace of mind for terminally ill patients. Healthcare delivery methods such as remote patient monitoring will enable doctors to monitor patient health outside of a traditional clinical setting using technology.

Technology and Innovation

Technology is driving innovation in this industry. Some technologies that are expected to revolutionize home healthcare in the next few years include sensors that can constantly monitor critically ill patients without the constant presence of a caregiver. This will especially prove beneficial in dealing with mentally ill patients such as those suffering from Alzheimer's, etc. Wearables along with GPS monitoring are two pathbreaking technologies that are set to take this sector by storm. It can be immensely helpful in case of emergencies where a quick response time can save a life. Remote monitoring tools that can be connected to in-home devices or a smartphone help in reducing costs and wait time at clinics in cases where regular health monitoring is essential. This is a technology that will undoubtedly continue to evolve in the next year.

AI and Robotics for Elderly Care

As an increasing number of elderly are left home alone, companionship would be a big challenge that the home healthcare industry will need to address as part of their vision to offer holistic care. The year 2019 saw many start-ups trying out new prototypes in this realm using chat-bots and AI. Machine learning has made it possible for AI to learn, recognize and react to specific human emotions. Home healthcare start-ups are aiming to use this technology in elderly care to sport motion, access and monitor health charts, fix appointments and even communicate with the elderly in an attempt to dispel loneliness. In the coming years, this technology is going to make it big.

As a Promising Career Path

From a skillset perspective, home healthcare is emerging as a solid career path. It requires professionals trained in both general as well as specific aspects of caregiving such as medical safety, emergency handling and specialized chronic disease management, drug administration and equipment monitoring. By taking reskilling initiatives, start-ups can help in effective supply chain creation for a large number of skilled healthcare workers including phlebotomists, technicians, nurses, and nutritionists and pharmacists. The acute shortage of trained labour in the industry can be address through development of training programmes.

In Conclusion

Technology adoption holds the key to the future of home healthcare. This sector has a lot of inherent potential that can be effectively leveraged with the help of technology that can enable patients with better monitoring and self-management tools. Technologies such as AI and machine learning can help in delivering more empathetic care to patients and the use of mobile apps will take telemedicine to the remotest corners of India. This change is imminent and must be recognized quickly for India to gain some ground, because the future belongs to digital hospitals that empower patients to take care of themselves.

Meena Ganesh

Chairperson & Co-Founder, Portea Medical

Portea Medical is India’s leading consumer healthcare provider and focuses on general primary health care, post-hospitalization care, chronic disease management and allied services. The company offers home visits from doctors, nurses, nursing attendants and physiotherapists. In addition, Portea also provides a collection of lab samples and offers medical equipment for sale / on hire, bringing the entire gamut of healthcare services to a patient’s doorstep. Since inception in 2013, Portea has completed more than 2.5 million patient visits across the country. The company manages ~ 120,000+ patient visits each month.

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