The digital transformation of healthcare has been hugely disruptive and reached far beyond monitoring devices. There was a time when digital healthcare was a murky space where we were just feeling our way around, not entirely sure whether we could become friends with an “online doctor.”
Digital healthcare’s moment to shine really came through when Covid backed the entire world into a tight corner. The perception of digital healthcare transformed from a simple video consultation on a mobile device to now incorporating an entire ecosystem of sophisticated technology, Internet infrastructure, computing platforms, and relevant software.
But what exactly is digital healthcare? How does it help patients, doctors, and healthcare organisations? And how exactly does it fit into the world we’re living in today?
Understanding Digital Healthcare
If you’ve ever tracked your daily steps on your phone apps, worn a Fitbit, or even logged in to a video consultation with your GP or specialist, you’ve had an interaction with digital healthcare.
At its core, digital healthcare is the conduit – or the vehicle – that takes healthcare from being institution focused to patient focused. Here’s how we can understand digital healthcare.
At one point in time, hospitals and doctors required that the patient adapt to their delivery of care. Digital healthcare has stepped in to disrupt this model in favour of patients. With ubiquitous access to digital devices like tablets, mobile phones, smart watches, healthcare providers have been able to deliver care to patients at the point and time of their choosing.
Understanding Digital Health Care : How does it Help?
A technology ecosystem that has been so disruptive should ideally have a fair amount of pushback from both sides of the stethoscope. And yet, digital healthcare has persisted and gained enthusiastic adopters – from patients to healthcare administrators and all the way to doctors.
Of course the incredible spread of Covid forced us all into widespread adoption of technology. Patients who would never have agreed to a teleconsult all of a sudden warmed up meeting their doctors over Zoom calls.
Ageing parents who had no need of smartphones or smartwatches found themselves relenting to being continuously monitored through wearable tech.
“Telehealth is more than just a top-level scan or a first line of defense” says Chiamala Aravamudhan, CEO of cSoft Technologies. “With the sheer amount of technological and technical input going into building the right infrastructure, doctors and patients now have access to extremely sophisticated systems of care.”
Benefits of Digital Healthcare
As we mentioned earlier, the benefits of digital healthcare are evident on both sides of the stethoscope.
- Holistic View of a Patient’s Health
Digital healthcare offers doctors and healthcare workers an opportunity to gain a holistic overview of a patient’s health. Whether the data comes in from wearable devices or from an EMR where reports are constantly available, the ability to look at the big picture of a patient’s health is helping deliver the right care at the right time.
“As healthcare providers, we’ve genuinely benefitted from being able to tap into a patient’s historical data at will” says Dr. Rachna Kumar, a GP practicing in New Delhi. “Initially, while the shift to telehealth came with a steep learning curve, we’ve learned to work with the immense value we receive from it. We can’t deny how helpful it is to have doctors from different specialties collaborating in one space to help a patient get healthy again.”
- Remote Access to Patients
Imagine an elderly patient who’s experiencing a mild anxiety attack. This person, who lives alone, has a sudden life challenge and has trouble coping. Because of the anxiety attack, they experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, but there are no other symptoms that indicate a serious issue.
They reach for their phone and call their GP who has a good understanding of the patient’s history with anxiety. The GP accurately diagnoses the anxiety attack, helps the patient calm down, and then completes the rest of the consultation on a video call.
By the time the remote consultation has ended, the patient has received the care they need at the time it was needed, without multiple resources being mobilised.
“It’s not just the patients who benefit from remote access,” says Dr. Rachna. “Doctors and healthcare workers find it to be immensely useful as we’re able to help our patients when they really need us.”
- Prevention of Inappropriate Health Costs
With its capacity for personalised care, a focus on overall wellness, and preventive care efforts through continuous monitoring and feedback, the digital healthcare ecosystem is undoubtedly a patient-centric model. With the ability to care for patients remotely and preemptively comes the tangible advantage of reduced healthcare costs, especially for patients.
“In a country like India, we have an imperative in front of us to make healthcare as affordable as possible, especially for rural and low income populations” says Dr. Rachna. “With telehealth, that possibility is becoming more and more real. We have doctors and patients, flung across the country, who are able to connect to each other from the most remote corners.
Imagine how much money a patient is able to save when they don’t have to factor in unnecessary testing or transportation costs for timely care.”
According to a report published by The Mint, “the potential productivity unlocked by the digital economy could create up to 60-65 million jobs” and healthcare is part of this growth. So, clearly digital healthcare goes far beyond just a video consultation during a Covid lockdown. If leveraged well, with the proper support systems in place, the disruption from technology could create a lasting positive impact – both, on the industry and the lives of the people it serves.