A prescription for the future

While using cutting-edge technology, we need to find ways to continuously lower the cost of healthcare

Published - November 28, 2018 12:15 am IST

A set of flat design styled healthcare & medicine icons with a long side shadow. Color swatches are global so it’s easy to edit and change the colors.

A set of flat design styled healthcare & medicine icons with a long side shadow. Color swatches are global so it’s easy to edit and change the colors.

The world as we know it is changing so fast and so much. Global mega-trends only reinforce this fact. The Internet has taken over our lives, smartphone penetration is growing rapidly, demographics are evolving. For the first time, in 2019, millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), who feel fully at home in a digital world, will overtake the population of baby boomers. There are dramatic lifestyle and behavioural changes occurring every day, with strong implications for the future of our planet and its inhabitants.

Impactful changes

Healthcare is no stranger to change — in fact, the most impactful transformations in human life have happened in healthcare. Time ’s cover three years ago showed the picture of a child with the headline, “This baby could live to be 142 years old”. That is the extent of the breakthrough in longevity that modern medicine has been able to achieve. Healthcare in India too has been transformed over the last three decades, and as members of this industry, we can be proud of how far we’ve come in terms of improved indices on life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal deaths and quality of outcomes.

But we cannot rest on these achievements now, because the pace of change is still scorching, and is fundamentally altering disease patterns, patient risk profiles and their expectations. Information technology and biotechnology are twin engines, with immense potential to transform the mechanics of care delivery, the outcomes we can achieve and, above all, the lives we can touch and save.

There are several examples of the kinds of impact technology and biotechnology can make on healthcare. Telemedicine has already brought healthcare to the remotest corners of the country. The use of artificial intelligence for preventive and predictive health analytics can strongly support clinical diagnosis with evidence-based guidance, and also prevent disease. From the virtual reality (VR) of 3D-printing, we are now moving towards augmented reality (AR), by which, for example, every piece of node in a malignant melanoma can be completely removed, thereby eliminating the risk of the cancer spreading to any other part of the body. Biotechnology, cell biology and genetics are opening up whole new paradigms of understanding of human life and disease, and have made personalised medicine a way of life.

Largest health scheme

So, the outlook is clear: those in healthcare who wish for status quo and for the comfort of the familiar run the risk of becoming irrelevant. And that goes for countries too. India needs to rapidly adapt to, embrace and drive change if it wishes to stay relevant in the global healthcare order.

India’s change imperative has become even more pronounced with the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana Abhiyan, or National Health Protection Mission (NHPM), under the ambit of Ayushman Bharat. This major shift in approach to public health addresses the healthcare needs of over 500 million Indians in the first stage through what is probably the world’s largest public health-for-all insurance scheme. The vast scale of the programme requires reimagining an innovative model which will transform healthcare delivery in the country. By leapfrogging through smart adoption of technology and using emerging platforms such as Blockchain, significant improvements are possible in healthcare operations and costs.

The private health sector is committed to support this programme, and ensure its success, because we are beneficiaries of society’s social licence to operate, and it is our responsibility to make sure this programme reaches the most vulnerable and the under-privileged, for whom it is intended. At the same time, we have a solemn responsibility to ensure that the sector is sustainable in the long term. For India to grow, healthcare as an engine of the economy needs to flourish. And the private sector, which has contributed over 80% of the bed additions in the last decade, needs to earn healthy rates of return on investment to continue capital investment in infrastructure, technology upgrades, and to have the ability to acquire top clinical talent, which can lead to differentiated outcomes. In our quest to achieve low-cost healthcare, we must not inhibit our potential for growth, nor isolate ourselves from exciting global developments.

The way forward

The prescription is clear. We need to achieve a balance between staying at the cutting edge of clinical protocols, technology and innovation and continue to deliver world-class care, while finding increasingly efficient ways of operating to continuously lower the cost of care and bring it within the reach of those who cannot afford it. This is a difficult balance to achieve, but not impossible. And when accomplished, India would have found an answer that can be an example for the rest of the world to emulate.

With clarity and focus, we can create a blueprint for the legacy we wish to build and set the trajectory for Indian healthcare for the next several decades. The decisions we make today are decisions we make for our children, a future we will create for them. Will they lead healthier lives than we do? Will they approve of our choices and actions? Are we building an inclusive and sustainable world for them? We have it in our hands to shape the winds of change we face today into the aero-dynamics that will definitively propel our collective destinies forward.

Suneeta Reddy is Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals Group

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