India’s healthcare system is a remarkable phenomenon in many ways. Boasting one of the largest social health programs in the world, in addition to incredible research and development facilities, the country has certainly become a powerhouse in its relatively short tenure as an independent nation. However, congruently, India certainly harbors a unique barrage of health care problems just like other countries: staffing gaps, high expenses, shortage of doctors and skilled workers – these are just some of the many problems facing the country. . Nonetheless, the Indian spirit moves forward, attempting to serve its vast population across a variety of demographics and amid a complex landscape of payers and providers.
A major variable that is entirely unique to the Indian subcontinent is the population to be served. Recent reports indicate that there is a doctor to population ratio of nearly 1:854 in India; that is, there is approximately 1 doctor for every 854 people in the country. This has sparked renewed interest in expanding access to medical education: the government has moved quickly not only to create more places for students wishing to pursue medical education, but has also opened up aggressive new state-of-the-art medical faculties and institutions across the country.
Additionally, the government is actively pursuing digital health projects, as a way to increase access to quality care. Partnering with established tech giants such as Tata Group and Reliance Industries, in addition to leading healthcare organizations such as Apollo Hospitals, tech enthusiasts are working hard to make this dream a reality.
A big and key catalyst is just how incredibly ripe India is for digital health disruption. The country has some of the most advanced internet infrastructure, providing a solid foundation for lightning-fast connectivity and high-fidelity information. Moreover, over the past 10 years, the transition to a digital economy has completely reshaped India’s societal mindset: digital payments and e-money are now commonplace for everyone from small vendors from rural vegetables to large-scale construction builders. The country has undoubtedly already adopted a digital mindset— it’s only a matter of time before the right tools are in place.
In fact, Sundar Pichai, CEO and executive of global tech giant Alphabet (Google), is overwhelmingly positive about India’s rapid transition to the digital ecosystem: “The country has made huge strides in putting a billion Indians online. Low-cost smartphones combined with affordable data and world-class telecommunications infrastructure have paved the way for new opportunities […] But India’s digital journey is far from over. There is still work to be done to make the internet affordable and useful for a billion Indians… from improving voice typing and computing for all of India’s languages, to inspiring and supporting a whole new generation of entrepreneurs.
A lion’s share of this work has been carried out under Prime Minister Modi’s bold vision for a digitally empowered India. PM Modi forcefully explains, “Technology is fast, technology is simple, and technology is a brilliant way to serve people. He is also a great pedagogue. The more we learn about technology and the more we learn through technology, the better […] We are in the middle of the information age and the change was “disruptive and significant”. The achievements of the industrial age are in the rearview mirror, and now we are in the midst of the information age. [The] the future is coming sooner than expected.
Indeed, in the broadest sense, this initiative opens an unparalleled path for digital health technologies that are ideally suited to India, ranging from artificial intelligence to telehealth services. Demand is undeniably strong. For example, there is an incredible need for advanced analytics when it comes to health data, with nearly 1.4 billion people and infinitely more related medical records. Additionally, telehealth and other virtual health services could be a life-saving boon to millions of Indians in rural communities, who would otherwise not have access to hospitals or facilities in big cities. Digital diagnostic tools and technologies, including wearable devices, remote tracing capabilities and even remote monitoring hardware, will prove incredibly useful, especially as India’s population is rapidly aging and facing higher rates of chronic disease.
Tech giants like the Tata Group are already innovating in this arena, attempting to embrace cutting-edge digital technology as a way to address critical health issues. Tata Medical and Diagnostics, in particular, is a healthcare venture capital group formed under the Tata umbrella to focus on new innovations to improve patient care. The subsidiary strives to optimize core healthcare testing, diagnostic and treatment capabilities, also integrating new artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital tools.
Likewise, hospital systems nationwide are advancing their offerings to achieve the goal of digital empowerment. The Apollo Hospital system, which is one of the largest and most prominent systems in India, has strived to launch an incredibly robust telehealth solution across the continent and has been repeatedly praised by world leaders for his bold initiative and innovation. In fact, after recently becoming the second healthcare provider in the world to achieve Stage 6 DIAM certification (a certification recognizing the safety and capabilities of digital imaging modules), it was celebrated that the organization created an incredibly wide range of advanced patients. care tools, including innovative patient communication portals, clinical care mapping software, and even augmented and virtual reality solutions.
Market connoisseurs are quick to seize these opportunities. While the current market value of these services is estimated at around US$500 billion, experts predict that the digital health market in India will easily reach close to US$1 trillion in the next decade.
Nonetheless, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially to get this robust technology and offerings into the hands of Indians. While the infrastructure is in place, there needs to be a focus on greater awareness, education and accessibility to this digital ecosystem, so that the masses can benefit from these technological prowess.
However, the overall commitment, enthusiasm and vigor with which the Indian mindset approaches this digital mission is undoubtedly promising. Indeed, it is only a matter of time before Digital India goes from a mere dream to a mundane reality.
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