The Indian 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 hosts a unique barrage of problems with regards to healthcare as well, just like other countries: staffing discrepancies, high expenditures, a shortage of physicians and skilled workers—these are just a few of the many problems the country faces . Nevertheless, the Indian spirit marches forward, attempting to serve its vast population across a variety of demographic categories and amidst a complex payor and provider landscape.
One major variable that is entirely unique to the Indian subcontinent is the sheer population that must be served. Recent reports indicate that there is a nearly 1:854 doctor to population ratio in India; that is, there is approximately 1 doctor for every 854 people in the country. This has caused a renewed interest in expanding access to medical education: the government has acted swiftly to not only create more seats for students that desire medical training, but has also aggressively opened new state-of-the-art medical colleges and institutions across the country.
Additionally, the government is actively pursuing digital health ventures, as a means to increase access to quality care. In partnership with established technology giants such as the Tata Group and Reliance Industries, in addition to prominent healthcare organizations such as Apollo Hospitals, technology enthusiasts are working hard to make this dream a reality.
One significant and key enabler is how incredibly ripe India is for digital health disruption. The country has some of the most advanced internet infrastructure in place, providing a steadfast baseline for lightning speed connectivity and high information fidelity. Furthermore, in the last 10 years, the transition to a digital economy has completely revamped India’s societal mindset: digital payments and electronic currency is now commonplace for everyone, from small-time rural vegetable vendors, to large-scale construction builders. The country has undoubtedly already embraced a digital mindset— it is just a matter of time before the right tools are in place.
In fact, Sundar Pichai, CEO and leader of global technology giant Alphabet (Google), is extremely positive about India’s swift transition into the digital ecosystem: “The country has made huge progress in getting a billion Indians online. Low-cost smartphones combined with affordable data, and a world-class telecom infrastructure, have paved the way for new opportunities […] But India’s own digital journey is far from complete. There’s still more work to do in order to make the internet affordable and useful for a billion Indians…from improving voice input 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 spearheaded under Prime Minister Modi’s bold vision for a digitally empowered India. PM Modi emphatically explains: “Technology is fast, technology is simple, and technology is a brilliant way to serve people. It is also a great teacher. The more we learn about technology and the more we learn through technology, the better it is […] We are in the middle of information era and change was ‘disruptive and big.’ Achievements of the industrial era are in the rearview mirror, and now we are in the middle of information era. [The] future is coming sooner than expected.”
Indeed, in the broadest sense, this initiative paves an unrivaled path for digital health technologies as a perfect fit for India, ranging from artificial intelligence to telehealth services. The demand is undoubtedly valuable. For example, there is an incredible need for advanced analytics with regards to healthcare 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 for millions of Indians in rural communities, who may not otherwise have access to big-city hospitals or facilities. Digital diagnostic tools and technology, including wearables, remote tracing capabilities, and even distance monitoring hardware will prove to be incredibly useful, especially as the Indian population is quickly aging and is facing higher rates of chronic disease.
Technology giants like the Tata Group are already innovative in this space, attempting to embrace cutting edge digital technology as a means to solve crucial healthcare problems. Tata Medical and Diagnostics, specifically, is a healthcare venture group formed under the larger Tata umbrella to focus on novel innovations to improve patient care. The subsidiary is working to optimize core healthcare testing, diagnostic, and treatment capabilities, by also integrating novel artificial intelligence, machine learning, and digital tools.
Similarly, hospital systems nationally are advancing their offerings in order to meet the digital empowerment goal. The Apollo Hospital system, which is one of the most prominent and largest systems in India, has strived to launch an incredibly robust telehealth solution across the continent, and has repeatedly been congratulated by world leaders for its bold initiative and innovation. In fact, after recently becoming only the second healthcare provider in the world to attain Stage 6 DIAM certification (a certification recognizing the safety and capabilities of digital imaging modules), it was celebrated that the organization has created an incredibly wide range of advanced patient- care tools, including innovative patient communication portals, clinical care mapping software, and even augmented and virtual reality solutions.
Market savants are quickly keying into these opportunities. While the current market value of these services is estimated to be around the $500 billion USD mark, experts predict that the digital health market in India will easily be worth nearly $1 trillion USD within the next decade.
Nevertheless, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially with actually getting this robust technology and these offerings into the hands of Indians. While the infrastructure is in place, more awareness, education, and accessibility to this digital ecosystem needs to be emphasized, so the masses may benefit from these technological feats.
However, the overall commitment, enthusiasm, and vigor with which the Indian mindset is approaching this digital mission is undoubtedly promising. Indeed, it is only a matter of time before Digital India transforms from merely a dream to a commonplace reality.