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 The industry processes are outdated, the system was not designed to handle such large volume of patients and patients themselves do not receive predictable and efficient healthcare.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.

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