July 17, 2024

The Health

Your health, your choice

Levelling primary health care in India digitally

In the 1980s, India’s health care landscape underwent a seismic shift with the arrival of the country’s first corporate hospital. This ushered in an era prioritising cutting-edge technology, modern infrastructure, and skilled medical professionals, all focused on delivering superior patient care. This formula sparked a revolution in tertiary care, attracting not only domestic patients but also medical tourists seeking affordable, high-quality treatment. Today, numerous hospital chains have adopted this model, fostering a nationwide rise in health care standards.

Health care
Health care

These corporate and tertiary hospitals not only excel in quality but also attract patients worldwide seeking affordable, high-quality medical treatments. However, this commendable standard of care remains largely confined to tertiary care. Nevertheless, valuable lessons can be learned and applied to other areas, like primary and secondary care, to extend and expand these hallmarks of quality and revolutionise the health care landscape in its entirety. India has witnessed a significant transformation in the realm of primary care. The convergence of health care and digital technology has played a pivotal role in reshaping the delivery of primary care services across the country.

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While primary care services boast a talented workforce and are witnessing an unprecedented technological surge with telemedicine, remote monitoring, and wearable devices. With digital tools, health care providers have an extensive view of patient health by significantly increasing access to health data. However, they lack the crucial elements of standardised processes, clear SOPs, and advanced technology infrastructure, hindering the delivery of high-quality care.

For example, consider dental care–India boasts the second-highest number of dentists globally, exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended dentist-to-population ratio by a significant margin.

Yet, despite this impressive workforce, a significant hurdle persists: The lack of standardised quality measurement. Patients often lack access to robust information regarding the quality of care offered by different clinics, making informed choices difficult.

Standardisation, as witnessed in the tertiary care revolution, offers a powerful blueprint to transform primary care. By leveraging digital health care, we can establish a measurable framework for setting excellence parameters across existing clinics. This will not only enhance patient experience but also ensure positive clinical outcomes. A phygital delivery model, for example, can provide transparency in equipment, sterilisation techniques, patient experiences, and treatment efficacy, building trust and empowering informed health care choices.

Imagine a future where India, already ranked 10th in the Medical Tourism Index, becomes a global hub for dental and cosmetic treatments. Favourable government policies are paving the way, but the missing piece is standardised quality parameters that empower patients to make informed choices about clinic quality and in-clinic experience.

The proliferation of digital platforms and telemedicine solutions has ushered in a new era for primary care in India. With the widespread adoption of smartphones and internet connectivity, patients now have unprecedented access to health care services at their fingertips. Teleconsultations, remote monitoring, and digital health records have empowered individuals to seek and receive primary care without the constraints of geographical barriers, thereby bridging the longstanding gap in health care accessibility.

Imagine a future where India, already ranked 10th in the Medical Tourism Index, becomes a global hub for dental and cosmetic treatments. Favourable government policies are paving the way for the advancement of India’s health care sector. As an integral part of the nation’s digital health ecosystem under the auspices of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), the National Health Authority (NHA) has invited health information technology (IT) companies to participate in the creation of digital health solutions. This initiative includes the creation of the Unified Health Interface, facilitating interoperability among various digital health solutions, as well as the Health Claims Platform for e-claims submission by health care providers. The objective of these efforts is to augment the accessibility and effectiveness of the health care system. But the missing piece continues to be standardised quality parameters that empower patients to make informed choices about clinic quality and in-clinic experience.

Standardised quality parameters act as trust markers, guiding consumers towards clinics that deliver high-quality care and exceptional in-clinic experiences. Moreover, they provide health care providers with uniform benchmarks to adhere to, ensuring that patients receive consistent levels of care regardless of the clinic they visit.

Digital health care companies are poised to play a significant role in developing and implementing these standardised quality frameworks, particularly in the realm of dental care. By leveraging digital technologies, these companies can raise the bar for quality in dental services, setting a precedent for excellence that extends to other medical specialties as well.

The potential for transformative change in primary care is immense, with digital solutions readily available to support the implementation of standardised quality measures. However, achieving this transformation requires a collaborative effort from all stakeholders within the health care ecosystem. By working together in the best interest of the patient, health care providers, policymakers, and technology innovators can collectively drive the advancement of standardised quality measurement, ultimately enhancing patient outcomes and shaping the future of health care delivery.

This article is authored by Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, chief strategy officer, Practo.