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How Technology Is Bridging Gap Between Patients And Healthcare Providers: Experts Speak

Several health tech players discussed the innovations that helped the scaled-up the healthcare sector to the marginalised communities in the remotest of places

New Delhi: From telemedicine to testing drone delivery of medicines, India is opting for various healthcare innovations. In one of the segments of the Lakshya – Sampoorn Swasthya Ka, several health tech players discussed healthcare inventions that helped detect cancer in a village, combat coronavirus in the remotest places, make medicine accessible to marginalised communities, and much more. Speaking on the challenges faced by the country in healthcare, Neeraj Jain, Country Director, India, PATH, said that the equity issue becomes a challenge in a large country like India.

Mr. Jain said the country has a shortage of manpower in the healthcare sector, and using technology is the only solution to speed up the process of accessing healthcare for all.

Manpower cannot get there as fast as technology can, said Mr. Jain.

Mr Jain listed three primary issues as a looming threat to healthcare—lack of awareness, access, and ensuring the right kind of health services.

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As soon as the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, people realised that the best way to prevent and slow down transmission was to be aware and well informed about the virus, its symptoms, causes, effects, and treatment, Mr. Jain said.

We have all become aware of our health, right up to our villagers. People have realised how important it is to be aware of healthcare issues, he added.

Access to healthcare is every individual’s right, and with the help of tele-health, the issue of ingress can be solved to a huge extent, especially in the rural population, Mr. Jain said.

Mr. Jain said that ensuring the right kind of quality of services to the rural population was another important factor, and technology was the way forward for it. He quoted the government’s tele-health platform, ‘E-Sanjeevani’, as a prime example.

Currently, there are about 1 lakh health and wellness centres that are using the platforms and 12,000 hubs. Additionally, they have run nearly 65 million tele-health consultations in rural areas, Mr. Jain said.

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Arunachal Pradesh has been making use of drone service-‘medicine from the sky’ to provide healthcare to tribal and rural communities. The drone network has reached the last mile and has delivered medical supplies up to eight times faster than road-based logistics in the state.

This is one of the best examples, as Arunachal was one the ‘hard to reach’ kind of geography. We have been running a pilot program and have delivered medicines, vaccines, and blood transportation (as required) efficiently. They are received and provided to the families by the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) and  Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANMs) workers. We are still at the trial phases, but this could be a game-changer for India, Mr. Jain said.

Dilen Gandhi, Regional Marketing Director of Reckitt (South Asia, Health & Nutrition), spoke about the advantages of technology in sorting the problem of conveying a message of healthcare to a large number of people.

We saw that happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was important to get the message out about hand hygiene, social distancing, etc., to a larger audience. We leveraged the TikTok platform at the time, and we had over 100 billion viewership within seven days, Mr Gandhi informed.

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Another important factor that technology has covered is customising messages according to people’s needs.

We ran a program, where we were able to target expectant mothers and new mothers, by providing them with customised information about health and the products that were going to be useful for them at that time, Mr Gandhi said.

Shyatto Raha, Founder & CEO, MyHealthcare, detailed how MyHealthcare has been successful in leveraging the potential of digital technology.  Mr Raha spoke about the shortage of doctors and nurses India is facing. Roughly, the country is short of about 1 million and a half doctors and about 2 million nurses as per the WHO standards, he said.

The only way to get better access for these doctors is by bringing efficiency into the system. So, we have used digital technology to bring all the patients’ clinical information together and present it to the doctor in a meaningful way. This way, he is able to see more patients, Mr Raha informed.

So far, MyHealthcare has been a success in cities like Kanpur, Lucknow, etc. My. Raha spoke about the Indian startup ecosystem. He said that there are companies that have been able to bring out “point of care” devices, where a simple blood sample result can be populated through a mobile platform at the location itself.

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Speaking on the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in providing health care, Co-Founder & CEO of Qure.ai, Prashant Warier, said that his company has worked extensively towards it. The company builds AI algorithms that can automatically interpret radiology images.

So, X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, tuberculosis, lung cancer, we can interpret that within a minute at the point of care. So, we are able to reduce the time that it takes to read an X-ray, from 4-5 weeks to a minute. This has also been endorsed by WHO and is a part of their protocol, Mr. Warier said.

Today, Qure.ai is used by nearly 62 countries, more than 700 hospitals, and continues to scale up. Over 1.2 crores patients have benefited from the technology.

Speaking on the matter of the lack of hospital beds in India, Dr Sangita Reddy, Joint Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals, said that we have to create deeper incentives to put up hospital beds.

There is an interesting plan called viability gap funding, which is addressing the remote population, Ms Reddy noted.

To attract investment in the rural areas, the Apollo Hospital has come up with a model called ‘REACH’, which focuses on rural empowerment and access to quality healthcare.

The rural models need funding, and doctors have to be encouraged to stay in those areas and push the concept of Ayushmann Bharat so that affordability comes in, Ms. Reddy said.

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A universal health access was required, which can be achieved by a combination of more beds, healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, and paramedicals, by four times, she further said.

Mr. Reddy also emphasised the importance of prevention of diseases.

Around 63 per cent of the cancer cases in India are detected in stage 2 and 4. If we find them at stage 1, we can treat them cost effectively and with less pain, Ms. Reddy said.

Another panellist, CEO of PLAN India, Mohammed Asif, spoke about how inclusion and diversity were important to strengthen the healthcare system. Mr. Asif said that technology goes beyond the concept of accessing healthcare for all. It also has the potential to strengthen frontline workers, so they are able to work with more contemporary knowledge.

At PLAN India, we look at how we can use technology to help ASHA workers become more aware of what is needed on the ground and make local-level decisions. We have seen workers using mobile applications, tablets, etc., and it’s a success in itself, he said.

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Nikhil Joshi, the co-founder of an Interaction Design Studio, Digital Jalebi, was another panellist on the season 9 telethon. He spoke about the digital tools that can help physicians, caregivers and nurses.

Mr. Joshi said that the firm is utilising virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to give healthcare workers the closest experience of how to tackle a medical emergency or a situation at ground level.

Virtual reality has really helped healthcare workers and doctors with their imagination. One of the AIIMS doctors told me that whenever they conduct any kind of heart surgery, if there is a need to clear the walls for blockage, we look at the scans and imagine where the blockage would be. But with VR, the doctors are able to figure out the blockage or if there is any other prevailing problem, Mr Joshi said.

To strengthen the healthcare system, Mr. Joshi said the focus should be on using the right kind of technology at the right place.

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NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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