A brave new world for healthcare

2 decades ago, when the telecom industry was still tied down to copper wires and screechy connections, and new telephone connections in India had a wait time of 2 years, the vision of a universe where customers could choose their telecom service provider and get an active connection within 24 hours of registration would have sounded like a cruel joke. And yet, the mobile revolution enabled tele-density in India to rise from under 2% to over 80% within the space of less than 2 decades and has been one of the few unqualified success stories of India’s economic liberalization.

So, what does this have to do with the medical industry?

In a way the healthcare industry is now, where the telecom industry was two decades ago. The industry processes are outdated, the system was not designed to handle such large volume of patients and patients themselves do not receive predictable and efficient healthcare.

Traditional health care is about increasing revenue by maximizing returns from patients. Revenues are directly linked to the number of patients treated and procedures administered to them. Such perverse economics results in much of what we dislike about health care, from hurried visits with physicians to generic treatments intended to address the broadest category of patients. And yet, doctors and sundry healthcare professionals who administer such treatments are often victims of the same system. Doctors are often overworked, nurses harried, and the system that was put in place in the pre-internet era is too creaky to address the health needs of the modern era.

Hospital and healthcare management systems, which are coming into their own now, have to balance two contradictory requirements. One, that these systems should facilitate medical institutions towards maintaining relationship spanning decades with incoming patients who are going to lead much longer and healthier lives. Two, that patients should be able to migrate across hospitals with no loss of medical records if they are not satisfied with the care provided by the incumbent hospital.

While these requirements appear contradictory, they need not be so. As healthcare systems and associated processes mature, it will result in universal adoption of such best practices that reduce cost of healthcare and maximize comfort for patients and will obviate the need for patients to migrate from one hospital to another.

The business model transformation that will lead to the fulfillment of the above requirements is a shift from paying for volume (fee-for-service) to paying for value (outcome based model). And this transformation will be enabled by adoption of comprehensive healthcare management software systems.

Health care organizations have traditionally defined value as quality care for patients who are sick, injured or dying, involving faster turnaround time and cost affordability. While these values will remain important, the emphasis might shift to other factors. Some such factors that we can think of, include: preventive care for patients, less intrusive healthcare and predictive modeling for health conditions. Future healthcare will be technologically advanced, convenient, non-intrusive and timely, with predictable outcomes and actively tracked. We’ll visit the hospital less frequently, consult our doctor over Skype more often and monitor our wellness like we monitor our finances.

If this looks like a utopian vision for the future, think fixed line phones 20 years ago. Like the telecom industry of 2 decades ago, healthcare is on the cusp of a major transformation. It’s a brave new world for all medical institutions out there.

At the confluence of healthcare and IT

The healthcare industry has been in a way the last holdout against the rising tide of technological innovation. The internet based innovation that transformed the retail industry and the music industry; that transformed the way we do banking or the way we do hotel and flight bookings has so far bypassed the healthcare industry.

Examine the following evidence: when we think of online retail Amazon comes to mind. Thinking of travel booking brings Expedia to mind. We cannot think of banking without internet and mobile banking any more. However, when was the last time you booked your appointment with a doctor online? Why can’t you view your medical prescriptions and pathology lab reports online, the way you can view your flight bookings and hotel bookings online?

The winds of change are blowing, however, and technology start-ups are starting to build off-the-shelf as well as customizable solutions to cater to the largely untapped market for software solutions for the healthcare industry. Following are 6 ways that we at Zywie feel technology can get involved in healthcare to begin with:

  1. Helping doctors view and manage their appointments: A persistent problem that doctors have pointed out to us is their inability to plan out their day using traditional tools. In the absence of online appointment systems, doctors cannot get details of patients booked on any given day and as such they cannot provide ad hoc appointments to walk-in patients. Again for walk-in patients, doctors cannot easily estimate wait-time. Implementing a calendar, will empower doctors to schedule their own appointments and to plan their day better.
  1. Enabling patients to book appointments online: In the internet era, it is inexplicable that patients cannot search for doctors across hospitals, by name or by specialty, view free slots of doctors, and book a slot as per their convenience. Once an appointment is booked patients should then get reminders on the day of appointment.
  1. ePrescriptions and Health record Digitization: Another common quibble for doctors is that they cannot easily view past medical history of patients. They have to rely upon patients’ memories, or prescribe expensive tests to diagnose a patient accurately. Digitization of patients’ health records can improve efficiency and accuracy of medical treatment by a significant degree.
  1. Helping patients stay healthy: With the modern emphasis on holistic treatment and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle, apps that track patients’ food habits, calorific intake, medicines consumed and level of activity can be integrated with a patient’s medical treatment and can help prevent future illnesses.
  1. Linking doctors with other doctors: The idea behind this is creation of a social network for doctors, where doctors can share their findings with each other, collaborate on difficult cases and in general work together to take better care of patients.
  1. Using data analytics to offer better diagnostics and treatment: Once a critical mass of patients’ healthcare records are digitized, data mining can be done to do predictive analysis and to come up with probabilities of patients incurring certain ailments, ways to prevent those ailments and optimum treatment for patients suffering from specific illnesses. Data analytics in medical science is a less explored topic where the possibilities are endless.