Healthcare and Lifesciences
Going Remote Brings Healthcare Closer
07 Oct 2020

Covid-19 has fuelled the pace of change in the healthcare sector, from tele-health expansion to the deployment of temporary hospitals. It has led to the cancellation of surgeries that brought down the operational capacity of a hospital. It has also inculcated a sense of fear in the minds of people that has led to a drastic fall in the in-patient visits. Given the shortage of acute care facility capacity and postponement of treatments, there has been a rapid deployment of remote-care technologies.

Remote medical care is a telemedicine service that allows constant monitoring of the patient’s condition and performance outside medical facilities with the help of a mobile device. It can be defined as the set of activities in which

(1) data is collected remotely (without oversight from a healthcare provider).

(2) collected data is transmitted to a healthcare provider operating at a different location.

(3) care providers are notified if required after the data is evaluated.

(4) care providers can communicate data-driven insights and interventions to patients.

For medical facilities, it shortens the length of hospitalization, relieves medical staff, raises the effectiveness of treatment, and provides day to day update of patient’s medical data. For patients, it reduces the waiting time for admission, provides treatment in a friendly home environment, provides rapid and direct contact with medical staff, shortens response time, improves therapy effectiveness, and provides access to own medical data.

Not only data transmission, but surgeries can also be done remotely. With the emergence of 5G, robot surgeries are now possible. 5G has ensured nearly real-time operations by solving problems like video-lag and remote-control delay faced in 4G. Remote surgeries promise valuable use of network technologies and robots.

Stakeholders involved in the whole remote care process are patients and virtual devices – virtual nurses or caretakers. There are multiple business models for remote medicare in which it can be easily implemented. One, the sales model, for sale of ready-made patient monitoring solutions. Two, the lease model, leasing of ready-made solutions by the remote medical centre. And service model, where remote patient-monitoring services are conducted by the remote medical centre.

Exploding costs of in-office care are encouraging new ways to provide efficient and effective treatment of diseases. One such example is Intel. Building remote care solutions with Intel includes four essential areas:

(1) Collect: activity monitors, wearable devices can be used to collect biometric and fitness data.

(2) Transmit and aggregate: medical devices like tablets, personal computers and mobile phones help in communicating the data to a healthcare organisation.

(3) Transmit and analyse: complex data can be transmitted to advanced analytics providing additional insight into the data.

(4) Notify: visualisation tools such as mobile applications make the data actionable.

Remote medicare in India is a new practice that has started to take firm shape, especially during this pandemic. Worldwide, patients are seeking shorter hospital stay, cost-efficient treatments, quicker recovery, and improved quality of life post-procedure. With the advent of the digital era and the use of smart technology, remote monitoring can be leveraged in the management of chronic conditions to post-operative care to complete recovery.

To implement remote medicare, there are mainly three types of infrastructure investment required – physical, personnel, and technological. Physical infrastructure like remote monitoring solutions, wearables, augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), medical drones, etc. to provide efficient and effective care to the patients.

Personnel infrastructure requires hiring highly skilled staff, or training the existing staff regarding emergencies, new tech solutions, etc. to ensure proper remote medical care. Also, the technical support staff is a must to help with efficiency in treatment.

Technological infrastructure requires access to broadband internet with sufficient bandwidth, imagining peripherals, etc. The costs may increase in terms of purchasing/leasing of solutions, training/hiring of staff but it also reduces the costs of occupied bed/room in a hospital. 

The push must begin at the helm. The ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW), along with NITI Aayog and Board of Governors (BoG), the Medical Council of India (MCI), issued a new set of guidelines for doctors and caregivers pertaining to the use of telemedicine. The regulating authority and policymakers need to accommodate technological interventions such as the growth of online pharmacies, remote medical care, etc. with the requisite controls in place. Further, healthcare investments by GoI in the form of subsidies would further promote adoption among hospitals to build these systems.

Startups such as Practo, DocPrime, mFine, CallHealth and Lybrate continue to contribute effectively in checking the spread of coronavirus and ensuring access to quality healthcare for the rural areas in India.

Key challenges faced in the adoption of remote medical care is difficult to replace the goodwill enjoyed by a neighbourhood doctor, or confidence in diagnosis on physical examination. Along with this, Medtech companies that manufacture smart devices enabled with AI and big data analytics will help in capturing a wider set of relevant health-related information.

To ensure adoption in rural areas, the obstacle of digital literacy can be tackled through government programs, NGOs, etc. The issues that stand still are internet connectivity, skilled staff, and physical infrastructure. Hefty investment by the GoI in the upcoming years on remote medical care can solve those issues.

Authored by:

Aryaman Tandon, Director and Practice Leader - Healthcare

Shashikant Chaurasia, Practice Member - Healthcare

The full article was originally published on The Economic Times.

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