Original article was published by POPProbe on Artificial Intelligence on Medium
Future of Healthcare Industry in India – Post COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic started in December 2019 in China and strikes India in late January 2020, which stagnant the whole world and eventually affecting everything from the economy to each individual’s life. It has locked almost 1/3rd of the total population indoors.
The pandemic has done devastation across the globe, and it’s still not over yet. Till now, globally, there have been over 35 M confirmed cases, more than 1 M deaths, and almost 25 M recoveries. In India, there have been more than 6 M confirmed cases, over 100 K deaths, and more than 5 M recoveries.
Among various industry sectors, the Healthcare sector is one of the worst-hit due to the pandemic; even so, the difficulties this sector is facing are unique & different as compared to others. One crucial aspect is that all the Doctors, Nurses, and other health staff are at high risk of getting infected themselves from the patients, and they are unreplaceable due to their unique skills. Other challenges that every hospital is facing include fewer additional beds, insufficient medical equipment like ventilators, shortage of the right number of staff, adequate PPE kit, isolation area, new lab space for testing, and maintaining an unmanageable patient load on top of that.
From mid-March’20, with the COVID cases started to rise in the country, all the hospitals and healthcare institutions immediately have taken some urgent steps, like implement safety and precautionary measures to screen all the patients, visitors, and staff, keep a sufficient number of sanitizers at all the points, maintain social distance among individuals, mandatory use of PPE and mask, and frequent cleaning of all high touched areas and floors, etc. Later on, hospitals started to change their current infrastructure, such as creating isolation facilitates, maintaining the specific section for swab collection, etc. All these measures and changes incurred additional costs for hospitals. The threat of spreading infection and lockdown forced the hospitals to close the OPD and IPD services. Even after the lockdown, due to the fear of COVID, people are trying to avoid the visit to hospitals. The dual effect of rising additional costs and falling revenues have created a burden on private hospitals, which threatening their financial sustainability. Especially for the Private sector, COVID-19 created acute financial distress.
According to a survey conducted by NATHEALTH, due to COVID and several lockdowns caused an 80% drop in average hospital revenue, 90% of surveyed healthcare facilities are suffering financial challenges, with 21% of facilities facing an existential threat.
COVID-19 has made the healthcare industry aware of a few lessons digitalization, is one of them. With the pandemic outbreak, people started to adopt technology more than before, like the IT and Education sectors are majorly working from home nowadays. Similarly, digitalization in the healthcare industry would be beneficial for the healthcare sector to survive in the post-COVID world.
Teleconsultation for patients:
One of the main usages of Digital platforms and online access in the Healthcare sector can be Teleconsulting/Videoconsulting. Teleconsultation is an easy way to minimize crowed in healthcare centers. It also makes treatment more accessible and affordable for patients. After the consultation, the Doctor can decide whether the patient needs to undergo any health checkup, hospitalization, or just simple medication is sufficient. During March’20, the Indian Government published updated Telemedicine guidelines, which legalized the Teleconsultation and Telemedicine in India. As per the latest guidance, the patient can consult health issues with his/her Doctor over chat, audio, or video platforms.
According to a recent report by Practo, a health-tech start-up, between 1st March’20 and 31st May’20, almost five crores Indians opted for online healthcare. Thus approx. 500% growth witnessed in online consultation in the lockdown period. The report also stated that 80% of online visitors are first-timers, and 44% of users are from non-metro cities. Apart from Practo, at present several start-ups like mFine, Ubiqare Health, CallHealth, etc. are also working in the Teleconsultation space.
Using AI to communicate and diagnose:
Artificial Intelligence already eased the way of operating for many industries, like e-commerce, banking, tourism, etc. It has the potential to change the future of the Healthcare industry too. One way, of course, we can use AI for communication. A combination of AI and human understanding can help in having AI-powered conversations with patients.
These conversations can resolve lots of patient’s queries more conveniently and efficiently. AI technology can build various life-saving applications that can support in reading patient data, analyzing it, ensuring early detection, finding patterns, facilitating the right diagnosis, designing correct treatment, creating drugs and molecules faster. In the time of the Ebola Virus outbreak, biotechnology companies used deep learning to check if existing drugs could be redesign to treat the virus, and they got some success. This concept might help them with COVID. Many of the start-ups, such as Calligo Technologies, and Niramai already started to create solutions using AI for early detection of some life-threatening deceases, like cervical cancer, breast cancer, etc.
The Government of India has launched the Aarogya Setu app, a digital platform to track down the COVID-cases numbers in India. The app also alerts people if anyone unknowingly came across any COVID patient.
It has a solution through which a person can self-assess his/her COVID symptoms. It also provides necessary information about self-isolation, nearby COVID hospital location, next steps if any COVID symptoms develop. Different states also launched separate COVID tracking apps for their respective state, such as COVA, Mahakavach, Quarantine Watch, etc. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also offered eSanjeevani OPD an online platform for teleconsulting.
Like with every industry, digitalization of the healthcare sector is undeniable, especially after the post-COVID era. The sooner we start to adopt the technology, the better it will be for the industry and the patients as well.
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