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Digital disruption will make evidence-based healthcare a norm

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Digital disruption will make evidence-based healthcare a norm

Are we making a world in which all humans can live together, or are we sinking into the abyss of an unequal future and hampered growth? Despite the economic success of India Inc, this is a question that is worrying when we look at the situation of healthcare in India.

The health of a nation is intrinsically associated with the wellbeing of its citizens. Though the performance of India with respect to health and nutrition on the millennium development goals (MDGs) has improved, it has not matched the growth expectations needed to make India into a truly healthy society.

As of June 2019, India’s ranking in sustainable development goals (SDG) of good health and wellbeing was the highest at 79.9. We need to ensure that health remains a policy issue so that various stakeholders can actively participate in the process of making India truly healthy.

The government’s intent to provide a conducive environment for this sector is evident from the fact that the Union Budget, 2019, has earmarked the highest ever allocation for healthcare and has also increased the budgetary allocation for healthcare research by 9 per cent. It is a step in the right direction as R&D is important given that the nature of our diseases change frequently due to the effects of climate change. Consequently, as our smartphones take continuous software updates, so do our diseases.

This is evident in the trend that India’s burden of disease is shifting from communicable to non-communicable diseases. As health also includes mental wellness, it is important to focus on the rise of mental health epidemic in India, as one in every five individual suffers from depression.

As the purchasing power of Indians rise and their lifestyles change, so does the type of disease. Behavioural factors and changing living patterns have made Indians susceptible to lifestyle diseases like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, respiratory, cardiovascular problems and cancer.

The spurt of social enterprises in different clusters, the rise of the health tech industry and the use of digital technologies in healthcare will help meet shortcomings.

India is at an interesting cross-road today. This can be seen in her grappling with mixed emotions of political certainty reflected by the vision of Modi 2.0 and an environmental crisis of which Chennai is the poster child.

In this era of disruptive growth and rising inequalities, I believe social entrepreneurship along with public-private partnership can guide India through this friendly fire by looking at it like an opportunity.

Globally, the march towards the need to undertake actions that trigger social change is not only being headed by educational institutions, but also by consumers who are willing to pay marginally more for products that come from sustainable brands.

Closer home, social entrepreneurship has flourished despite the shortcomings of public sector schemes, along with the development of an ecosystem that aims to promote a triple bottom line and mandates CSR.

As access to sanitation and clean water to every Indian is still a distant reality and the fact that poor access to these facilities has untoward consequences for one’s health and the nation, I would like to recommend WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) as an area where India should develop pioneering frugal innovations, on a priority basis.

Consequently, the impact of this should not be restricted to just ensuring better health, but also extend to creating models of sustainable employment.

As creativity can be found in chaos, I trust that healthcare innovations will be guided by increased penetration of smartphones and access to data. This can be supplemented by investor confidence and their deployment of funds in health tech Indian start-ups — the value of which stands at $510 million as of 2018.

Digital disruption will help in making evidence-based healthcare a norm, turn a mobile app into your doctor next door and will aid India in avoiding the problem of physician burnout among the limited healthcare personnel that we have today.

However, a key question remains: How can various stakeholders work in synergy to promote this sunrise sector? Somewhere between the religious justification for certain indigenous medical treatments and the fault lines of Indian society, we need to develop a structure for healthcare that has a deep impact along with being accessible across the very hinterland of India.

We don’t need slogans, which are usually veneers; what we truly need is an action plan. For us, this action plan is an ecosystem wherein the government at the Centre, along with civil society organizations and corporate bodies develop a cornucopia of strategies to effectively improve the health of Indians by crafting a health policy based on the 3Ds – demographics, demand and digital disruption.

Guided by these 3 Ds, this action plan should have roots like that of a eucalyptus tree as it will not only help citizens of India rise above from the fear of having bad health but will also help us remain humble to a policy of implementing a social security system (the healthcare ecosystem linked with Aadhaar) that India can achieve in the next five years.

With AI in sight, I feel this technological disruption along with a progressive policy framework will guide the development in healthcare over the next few years.

We can begin by changing the DNA of healthcare by using constituency data to map health and malnutrition trends in order to be more effective in the long run and thereby making all stakeholders proportionately accountable. Ergo, we need to reshuffle the cards of health in India in order for New India to become a $5 trillion economy.

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