How the Pandemic has Impacted Home Health Care in India

Mrs. Hina Bhatia*, a 75 year old woman, has had various health issues crop up over the last 12 months.

“It was such a turbulent year, health-wise.

First, I tested positive for Covid and struggled with the symptoms afterward. Then, I developed heart disease and was rushed to the hospital for an emergency procedure. And after all that, I learned that I had a cataract developing in my left eye which needed to be removed.”

To make matters more precarious, Mrs. Bhatia also has a long history of diabetes and BP. “If you can think of a lifestyle disease, it runs in my genes” she says.

With age, a long history of the disease, and new complications arising in a post-Covid world, receiving the right care is no longer enough. The right care also needs to be delivered in the right and safe environment – which can often be an individual’s own home.

Home Care for the Elderly

“My family took a call early on that I wouldn’t be in the hospital long-term,” says Mrs. Bhatia. “But the challenge was in the daily monitoring and follow-ups. At first, we didn’t know how to go about that.”

For elderly patients, who must limit their exposure to Covid, the pandemic has highlighted the need for home health care services.

While home care services have been around for a while, this sector has largely been disorganized. “Traditionally, people have had to rely on smaller service providers, and tracking their efforts was a difficult task,” says the HealthScore team. “Because of the pandemic, the industry overall has had to look at delivering healthcare differently.”

Mrs. Bhatia’s family chose home care because of their previous experience with it. “The first time we discovered home health care was when my husband had his second bypass surgery. He needed someone to check his vitals daily and administer his medications. That’s how we decided to reach out to a nursing service for my post-operative care.”

Technology and the Delivery of Care

The delivery of care in Covid times has come a long way from the neighborhood doctor who would come by with a stethoscope and BP machine.

“I couldn’t believe all the devices I had to have next to me,” says Mrs. Bhatia. “All of this was just for routine checks while I recovered.”

Currently, Mrs. Bhatia has an oximeter at home to keep a close check on oxygen saturation levels. She also has a glucometer to check her blood sugar levels, a machine to check her BP and pulse rate, and now an app on her smartphone to track her vitals daily.

She also has a tablet device to schedule video calls for her online consultations. Why not a phone? “The phone screen is too small for me. I can never see anyone clearly” she says. A valid point for anyone contemplating elderly care.

Meanwhile, the home care service Mrs. Bhatia worked with also provided their staff with the equipment and tracking devices they would need to accurately record her blood sugar and other key health indicators. “They kept track of everything,” she says, recounting her experience. “They knew the exact time I needed my medicines, when I would probably be napping when I could go for a short walk – and even when I needed another follow-up with my doctor!”

A Changing Scenario

Mrs. Bhatia is one of the millions of elderly patients in India for whom something as routine as a follow-up consultation is now weighed against general safety and ease of reaching the doctor on time.

Other patients in her age group have trouble with movement and aren’t able to get to the doctor’s office. Still, others need to travel long distances for basic primary care. For these patients, receiving the required care at home can mean a life-altering difference.

There’s no question that globally, technology has taken the lead in providing timely healthcare due to the pandemic. In countries like the US, insurance providers are now covering the cost of at-home health care services.

However, here in India, we still need significant investments in infrastructure to provide the right care at the right time. While the country’s metros may be well-connected, the story is quite different in Tier 3 cities and rural areas.

“My sister, who lives in Nashik, needed to see a doctor, but couldn’t leave her home” recalls Mrs. Bhatia. “Even though my daughter scheduled an online consultation for her, half the time she couldn’t hear the doctor on the call. And no one helped her get ready for the call.”

While Mrs. Bhatia makes a good point about existing gaps, her remark also highlights the existing potential for development. Because even though infrastructure and technology still have to catch up, home health care is here to stay.

We’re imagining a world where doctors practicing in rural areas no longer have to feel disconnected from the latest medical developments. Or a world where patients living in even the most remote locations can receive safe, reliable, and high-quality care.

That’s exciting.

*Names may have been altered to protect patient privacy.