Now is the opportune moment for Healthtech

By Meghna Misra-Elder

Every challenge, no matter how big, creates opportunity. This pandemic has created numerous opportunities world over particularly in the healthcare space. Governments across the world were struggling to cope with their healthcare systems long before the pandemic and are now having to rethink the role of digital technology in healthcare.

Healthtech was already a growing industry and COVID-19 has not only brought its advantages to light but also accelerated its adoption. As an example, the UK government has launched a coronavirus chatbot to relieve the pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) and reduce in-person contact with COVID-19 patients. In the long term, such innovation will help health services provide better healthcare to citizens.

It is clear that healthcare systems around the world will need to be analysed and revamped through adoption of technology. India, too, was already exploring the advantages of digital health solutions but this pandemic has further expedited its need.

Providing in-person healthcare in India has been a challenge given the large geographical distances and limited resources. According to the World Bank, two-thirds of India’s population lives in rural areas and is served by one-third of the country’s doctors. This statistic has encouraged innovative companies to use AI to address this challenge by helping train low-skilled health workers to diagnose various medical conditions. Where scaling up human labour to address the growing demand can be a lengthy and challenging process, AI applications can help extensively.

There are numerous advantages of Healthtech particularly for countries like India where it emerges as a more cost-effective solution for rural patients who currently are having to travel long distances for consultation and treatment. Solutions like telemedicine not only provide access to healthcare but also foster greater safety of health workers and patients especially in situations where there is risk of contagious infections. Support by e-pharmacies would further enhance the access and availability of proper healthcare and medication for masses.

During the past few months, we have seen a huge growth of e-commerce platforms which has strengthened the case for introducing e-pharmacies in India. Though the e-pharmacy concept is common in developed countries, it is new to India and like any other innovative solution is facing some challenges. E-pharmacies have huge benefits, like offering cheaper medicines due to less overhead costs, better accessibility of drugs to wider sections of population even in remote areas. It addresses another key issue of counterfeit medicines as digital tracking of medicines can significantly support the Governments of India’s efforts in tracking counterfeit medicines. And, very importantly, the data gathered on digitally purchased medicines can help monitor and prevent drug-abuse and self-medication. Availability and analysis of this data can be hugely important while developing public health policies.

But to be able to harness the full potential of healthtech, Governments need to work hard to address some key challenges including:

  • developing the appropriate legislation and regulation and ethical guidelines
  • providing appropriate digital infrastructure to carry out the health-related process digitally
  • consolidating patient records electronically
  • an appropriate Data Protection Bill to balance privacy and innovation.

This is an opportune moment for Governments to work with tech companies, clinicians, other healthcare providers and stakeholders to understand what exactly is required to address the demand and develop the correct policy framework for encouraging innovation and its adopting in Healthtech. Health agencies across the globe are already working with tech companies to provide speedy solutions. The NHS is working with the likes of Amazon and Microsoft to optimise resource allocation for example.

To support business and Governments in the UK-India corridor, the UKIBC is bringing together a group of UK and Indian businesses and key decision-makers to identify opportunities in both countries and areas of collaboration and knowledge sharing.

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