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Towards Digital India: Why Hospitals Should Become Innovation Centres The primary area where hospitals should look to maximize their expertise is in using technology in telemedicine

By Huzaifa Shehabi

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As far as major announcements in the Budget are concerned, this year, the healthcare industry definitely garnered more headlines than it has in the past. But for stakeholders and experts singularly focused on the healthcare industry, there was a serious need for a dedicated policy that would not only impact ways in which pharmaceutical companies continued to do business, but also ways by which healthcare can be extended to a majority of Indians. This challenge has dogged the healthcare industry for years, and the announcement of the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) could be the first step – provided the implementation and financing are planned properly – towards that urgent requirement being addressed.

National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) - Will it be for Real?

But if the NHPS is to become a reality, the area that will require urgent problem solving will be how the healthcare industry bridges the demand-supply gap – can the system handle the glut of patients that will seek healthcare in primary, secondary, and tertiary health centres? In order to bridge this gap, technology will definitely play a large role, specifically in how innovative solutions will drive this change towards extending this panacea of a healthier India. The Indian Healthcare industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and the sector has become one of India's largest sectors – both in terms of revenue and employment. But for the sector to continue on this growth trajectory, healthcare will definitely require an even greater emphasis on technology, and in the process, rely less on innovative technology coming from the outside, by becoming innovators themselves. Innovation of such nature will not require a paradigm shift as a need of the hour, but instead, involve tweaking and iterating of policies and processes across the gamut of healthcare services.

Role of Hospitals

Hospitals can play a significant role in this regard. The primary area where hospitals should look to maximise their expertise is in using technology in telemedicine. The onset of the NHPS era will burden secondary and tertiary healthcare centres like never before. For these health centres to extend quality care, cloud computing and the telemedical network will be crucial. Patients will need their medical records to be stored in the cloud for easy access, and telemedical networks will reach out to the deep interiors. The role hospitals in Tier-1 cities can play in this is in training healthcare professionals from secondary and tertiary centres – from Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities - in the efficient utilisation of technology. The training and extension of such services, however, will need innovative solutions. In this regard, a good reference is the Orissa Trust of Technical Education and Training, which has made commendable progress in the State, wherein the youth are not only getting trained, but critical advice and interventions are beginning to reach patients and citizens alike.

Reliance on Robotics

The best hospitals in the country are already relying heavily on robotics. Surgeries – especially laparoscopic surgeries – are increasingly being performed by robotics. But here, innovation would not only help utilise robotics in OR's, but extend their roles to caregivers as well. Nurses are heavily burdened in health care centres and the like, and thus, hospitals are already looking at robotic nurses to help ease the pressure on them. In order to extend quality care, robots can be trained – using AI and Machine Learning –to assist, not replace, nurses. Initially, the costs can be steep, as robots are still manufactured by few companies, but cost subsidisation will only happen as more robots are utilised within the system.

In India, the government's Digital India initiative is focused on ushering in a digital transformation across various sectors, and healthcare services are ripe for disruption. But it must be stressed once more, that the approach to doing this should involve tweaking the neglected aspects – like patient safety, patient care and distribution of services – to begin with, and then moving on to bigger ideas. Should this happen as speculated, the benefits would be sizable, including an improvement in the efficiency of the treatment, a decrease in the cost of manpower, reduction in human errors, and an enhanced patient experience. India has a population of more than 1.3 billion, but any potential human resource dividend will vanish if a majority of Indians aren't able to stay healthy. This is where digitisation is essential, as the burden shouldn't fall solely on Human Resource Departments and the country's medical education system. Instead, the entire healthcare ecosystem must problem-solve at a micro-level in order to see true progress at a macro-level.

Huzaifa Shehabi

COO, Saifee Hospital


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