THE CHANGING PARADIGM OF ACCESS TO HEALTH
Teleconsultation has been prevalent since a while now and is not a new concept in India. But, due to lack of necessary motivation, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, non-government organizations, other platform providers and users could not accelerate the pace of adoption of the digital platform. Now, with Covid-19, the world has witnessed a massive expansion of tele–consulting as doctors and patients are restricted to interact in person.
Most patients have refrained from getting in-person doctor consultations for acute ailments due to the lockdown and risk of infection. With the pandemic extending beyond a few months, patients were forced to explore new channels for reliable acute care. Patients with chronic ailments, such as diabetes, are identified as a high–risk group, resulting in an increase in adoption of digital channels for disease management and control for such chronic diseases.
EY surveyed the top 12 pharmaceutical companies in India. It was found that 80% have tied–up with one or more marketplace teleconsultation platforms, 8% have launched its own platform while rest are evaluating different means to adopt teleconsultation.
Digital healthcare ecosystem: a need pronounced by the current crisis
Clinical pathway is journey of a patient–consumer from preventive well being management, primary care, secondary to tertiary and Quaternary care.
A step may include additional pathways such as diagnostics, medicines and follow–up. The industry leaders must focus on the need to integrate the parts of the patient journey, from doctor consultation to diagnosis and well being, digitally. This will ensure that the teleconsultation ecosystem is built and strengthened which may enable new businesses to grow sustainably.
- The teleconsultation healthcare ecosystem will connect the three stakeholders, namely, providers, payers, and fulfillment centers, through platform providers.
- The ecosystem contains multiple platforms that may be customized according to the specific value that they are driving.
- The teleconsultation platform can fulfill the entire patient journey from consultation to wellness and can digitally connect the steps which can be completed in-person or offline as per the need.
- Due to this digital footprint of the patient journey, a lot of data will be generated and captured, that would otherwise have been lost.
- The prime benefits of the teleconsultation ecosystem will be reach and continuum of quality care. Hence, it holds the potential to make tremendous improvements in the Indian healthcare system.
Data is the fuel of transformation and will be at the epicenter of this ecosystem
But here is a need to address three key challenges:
Data Generation will be possible only if patients are confident about the privacy of data they share on the platform.
- Data storage and handling: Patients should be able to trust the central storage location
- Data usage: Technology readiness will be essential for usage of the magnitude of data and analytics.
Key Enablers of Virtual Healthcare
- India has been witnessing an increase in the use of smartphones and wireless or mobile data
- The volume of smartphone subscriptions and the usage of 5G are both expected to rise by 2025.
- The speed, capacity and security provided by 5G will facilitate innovative healthcare applications.
- Data generated along with 5G network and AI based solutions offer a hyper personalized healthcare.
Infrastructure and policy support
- Newly released telemedicine guidelines have provided clarity and have reduced concerns among doctors and patients about telemedicine.
- The NITI Aayog is recommending National Health Stack (NHS) which is a nationally shared digital infrastructure that can link healthcare providers, payers and agencies to a national health electronic registry.
- Aarogya Setu, a COVID -19 contact tracing mobile app has instigated digitization of healthcare in India
- Initiatives like Swasth Stack and Swasth Alliance is also riding this wave of digitized healthcare.
- Swasth Alliance will be acting as a telecommunication platform while Swasth Stacks plans to ensure transparency with the help of Open Health Services Network (OHSN) and by an audit-able money settlement.
- Providers will no longer provide teleconsultation for free and they will also compete to give the best service.
Teleconsultation: A Game Changer for the Indian Healthcare Ecosystem
Due to the pandemic, data consumption has been pushed the future and so phygital (physical along with digital) has become somewhat normalized. Safety and convenience offered by phygital attracting more consumers who are focusing on mental and physical health. Prioritization of healthcare as well as the willingness of the younger population to adopt an online medium have increased the number of patients willing to use teleconsultation.
E-pharmacy: Trends, Challenges and Outlook
In India leading online pharmacies have reported a 50%-100% increase in orders during lockdown. The e-pharmacy market in India is projected to reach 10%-12% of the overall pharmaceutical sales in the next five years. It is dominated by startups who are focusing more on investing to strengthen their products and services as well as to improve their customer experience. E-pharmacies are also partnering up with local stores in order to increase their customer reach.
However, India faces challenges of inefficient practices and substandard technology infrastructure. Additionally, the existence of unorganized players creates a lack of uniformity in the system and practices. There is a lack of clarity on the regulations and guidelines for e-pharmacy in India which further escalates the problem.
Patient centric initiatives will be implemented to drive adoption and repeat orders. Genuineness of the medicine, providing faster delivery, easy order returns and cancellations policies will further drive patient adoption.
Pharmaceutical companies are going to keep investing in supply chains to make it stronger especially outside metros. Jio is in talk with a major online pharmacy to strengthen online to offline (O2O) commerce.
The government has prepared a draft regulation which is expected to be cleared soon. This will enable e-pharmacy operations to attract funding. More regulations especially around substitution can bring equity among the stakeholders and pharmaceutical companies.