In the times of COVID, health and healthcare have become the primary focus of both individuals and governments. Slowly but surely, the pandemic has pushed us all into the arena of digital healthcare.
When I had COVID last year I never met the doctor who treated me even once. I consulted with him virtually – at times on video or otherwise on audio. All the prescriptions came online and I sent him all test reports online too. The only physical interface with the medical personnel was with lab technicians during tests.
Along with work from home, online education, and other services online, accessing healthcare online also saw a surge during the pandemic. Before the pandemic the merger of healthcare and technology in areas such as e-pharmacies, telemedicine, homecare platforms and the like was picking up. However, both providers and consumers were slow in adoption. The pandemic came and pushed humanity over into terrains that were not so familiar, and online healthcare came into its own.
Emerging as a life saver both for the patient and the care giver, digital healthcare for COVID19 became the norm rather than the exception. The mobile phone revolution that had preceded the pandemic ensured that virtual healthcare became accessible to large sections of people.
The initial response – contact tracing, testing and surveillance were all data driven. Soon wherever possible, patient care also moved online. Patients were screened online – this provided protection to the medical staff and other existing patients in the hospitals.
The pandemic has given a boost to digital health in an unprecedented manner – leading to lower costs, better access and improved services. The health sector is moving towards integrating big data, artificial intelligence and remote learning. The entire gamut of health services has accelerated onto the online mode.
Even in critical care the tele-ICU model is being embraced. The experts are remotely connected to the ICU through real time audio visual platforms to provide care.
In day to day life too, we are seeing the rise of wearable health devices. We share data on apps of the steps we take, the distance we walked and the like. Soon these wearable devices will provide information about various physical parameters in real time to doctors for better diagnosis and monitoring. Health social networks where people with similar conditions share information are also gaining ground.
However virtual healthcare has its own challenges. The challenge of connectivity to the digital world in remote and inaccessible areas coupled with shortage of medical staff and lack of integration between the online and traditional diagnosis need to be addressed. For most public sector health facilities ramping up the hardware infrastructure and bandwidth capacities to meet the demand is a big challenge. As the use of digital healthcare expands, the issues of data privacy will come up in this area too.
As the trajectory of virtual healthcare moves ahead, there is a learning curve for both providers and patients for efficient results. How well we navigate this and help each other in moving along will determine our state of well being.
First published in Hindi in Dainik Bhaskar on April 8, 2021