Covid-19 Changing The Face Of Healthcare In India: Evolving Patterns And Trends
The evolution of healthcare in India witnessed in the past 25 years has been a mixed bag. While primary health metrics such as the infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality ratio (MMR) have lowered down substantially, healthcare expenses have reached a new high—a direct fallout of lower public health spending. The government’s allocation to healthcare as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen to 1.05% in 2015-16 from 1.47% in 1986-87. Currently, healthcare in India is witnessing a changing paradigm in accessibility, affordability, and quality. This has been accelerated undoubtedly by the launch of the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Abhiyaan’ or ‘National Health Protection Mission (NHPM) under the ambit of Ayushman Bharat. The mission seeks to address the healthcare needs of close to 40% of India’s population and is a commendable statement of intent and dedication from the Government. Successful implementation of the program involves a coming together of all stakeholders in India’s healthcare eco-system – policymakers, healthcare providers, technology innovators, and medical educators. Indian healthcare’s reputation for its brilliance has attracted patients for medical value tourism from across the world due to a non-compromising attitude towards quality and constant investment in systems, processes, and infrastructure, and we must strengthen and build on this platform. The need of the hour now is a change in strategy to achieve sustenance for the sector over the long-term, in a way that will allow continuing investment in the latest technology and maintaining the high quality of treatment at the levels of cost envisaged under NHPM. It is only then that the scheme will be able to achieve its goals of ensuring a longer and healthier life for all our citizens. This is an important aspect that needs to be examined as the scheme gathers pace with more enrolments and patients taking treatment under the scheme over the next few months.
CHANGES WITNESSED DUE TO COVID-19
When the Coronavirus hit India, the country’s healthcare system came under the most extreme scrutiny that it ever had, it completely took a turn, The system also saw some irreversible effects. Things might not be the same again. Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, and paramedics, fought against all odds and worked tirelessly to curb the infection and cure people, based on available knowledge and evolving treatment protocols. Some even succumbed to the virus in the process.
When the virus hit India, our country’s healthcare system came under probably the most intense criticism that it ever faced. Much as it tried to cope with the situation, the task of dealing with a virulent novel pathogen that infected hundreds of thousands at a rapid pace did expose the loopholes in the system. India invests just about 1.3% of its GDP in public healthcare and the cumulative widening gap of many decades, between what should be implemented and what actually got done, left us with far fewer hospital beds, life-saving equipment, and healthcare workers than required. While a costly lesson was learned, the situation could definitely be improved before the next pandemic—which must be only a matter of time. There is no reason that a country that did outstandingly well in developing infrastructure in other areas— transportation, power, telecom, cannot achieve the same in healthcare if it decides to work for it.
IMPACT ON BUSINESS AND PRIVATE SECTOR
The lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus affected the healthcare sector in multiple ways. Apart from a strain on their human resources, hospitals faced a host of other adversities during this extended period. As non-emergency treatments and elective surgeries took a backseat and national and international medical travel came to a standstill, the private hospitals were hit badly, these being their primary revenue generators. All this has sharply affected the private healthcare sector contrary to the conventional belief that hospitals must be doing well in a pandemic. While some green shoots are now visible, with unlock steps and the central government’s stimulus packages coming into play, the full recoup of Indian healthcare is some distance away. Apart from the financial revival, what is even more critical is the physical and emotional recovery of the healthcare personnel who have been relentlessly at it for the last six months, braving great personal risks and social pressures.
EVOLVING PATTERNS AND TRENDS
Although we are still very much in the midst of the pandemic to discuss conclusively its impact, a few trends are clearly visible. At a more micro-scale, hospitals have moved healthcare delivery beyond the restrictions of their buildings. Teleconsultations and remote monitoring are now commonplace and they are here to stay. Residential emergency centers and home-based care have been given importance. More importantly, customers have speedily adapted to digital routes for accessing care and have realized ease and transparency. Technology that had a predominantly enabling or backend role in the Indian healthcare delivery context is moving to the forefront. While many other enterprises had embraced AI / ML over the last few years, hospitals are now following suit. Utilizing data analytics and digital tools to transform care delivery, integrating across clinical departments, enhances the patient experience.
To conclude, as a sector, Healthcare can play a dominant role in shaping and growing India’s economy, with the ability to create direct and indirect jobs and the most valuable impact of keeping our citizens healthy and part of a vibrant and productive workforce. It is important that the spotlight continues to shine on the sector and more steps are taken to support healthcare workers and empower them.