Digitization of healthcare can improve reach in rural India

By Priya Chetty on February 6, 2016

Amidst the increasing demand for healthcare services across the globe and reducing the rise of the cost of those services, besides the persistent tug-of-war- between competing priorities, health spending is on a constant rise. In 2013, the health spending was estimated to have increased by 2.8%— an upshot of 2% from 2012, making a total of US$7.2 trillion— nearly 10% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) (The Economist 2014). This scenario in the global health spending is likely to increase with an average of 5.2% a year, in 2014-2018, making it to US$9.3 trillion, mostly catering to the rising demand through emerging-market expansion, infrastructure improvements, treatment and technology advances (Deloitte 2015).

Global index projects a transformation in the way physicians, payers, patients and other stakeholders interact, through digital innovation.

  • Providers in Europe are becoming increasingly connected and thereby spending more time online for business and clinical purposes.
  • Implementation of m-Health has helped countries like China and Africa to serve rural and underserved regions after it made possible to manage cases remotely at home or work.
  • Global telemedicine market too is expected to at a CAGR of 18.5% during 2012-2018 from US$14.2 billion in 2012 (Research and Markets 2013).
  • Medical diagnosis devices such as LifeQ, developed by South African-based HealthQ use optical sensors and non-invasive devices to measure key physiological metrics (eHealth News ZA 2015).

The rise of netizens and need for digitisation of healthcare

Recently held Digital Healthcare Summit-2015 saw healthcare leaders of the country emphasizing on how technology can improve healthcare in innovative and never-seen-before ways. Initiatives such as these verily point to the necessity and significance of digitized healthcare sector. Digitization has off late appeared to be an important factor in taking a proactive role in their healthcare decisions. Moreover, due to the rise of netizens and easy access to the virtual world, the digitization of traditional healthcare delivery model will make it comfortable for consumers to take charge of their health. According to a survey report prepared by Amersfoort et al. (2014), on behalf of Capgemini, 86% of respondents wanted to participate in a proactive manner in health care decisions. Besides, social media and mobile platforms, becoming an important part of consumers’ life, most of them— nearly 45% respondents of the survey agreed to search for health information in those platforms and 34% ask for health-related advice on social media (Amersfoort et al. 2014). Moreover, the advent of apps and presence of digital health tracking modules in ‘smartphones’ like that of Apple and Samsung, have resulted in transforming the healthcare sector from traditional to a modern and updated dimension, within everybody’s reach.

Globally, the digitization of healthcare services has contributed to the efficient functioning of the system and organizations. The study conducted by Amersfoort et al. (2014) have pointed out certain gains of the measure:

  • Mobile Health (mHealth): Saving the medical practitioners’ time by providing a common database consisting of patients’ information (such as x-rays, CT scans and other clinical information and the progress taking place) (Källander et al. 2013). For example, Ottawa Hospital helped its doctors save nearly two hours per day by equipping them with iPads connected to a centralized patient information system. Such measures also help the patients to know about their progress from their beds (World Health Organization 2011).
  • Artificial Intelligence: Monitoring of operations in real time. In the survey method, nearly 63% of the respondents using digitization responded in affirmation as compared to 15% of those not using the measure (Lisetti et al. 2003; Eren et al. 2007).
  • Big Data and Analytics: The operational process of the healthcare centres and institutions can adapt quickly to external changes, addressing the lack of flexibility of manual operation (KPMG 2015), and
  • Most importantly the core processes within the institutions become automated, making early detection and quick diagnosis, proving it to be quite impactful (Darrel et al. 2014).
  • Tele-medicine: bridging the urban-rural divide by extending low-cost consultation and diagnosis facilities to the remotest areas via high-speed internet and telecommunication (Deloitte 2015b).

Similar to the global benefits, India can also be benefited by applying digitization across all levels of the healthcare sector. In a massively populated country like India, digitization will provide better healthcare access to human resources. Digitization potentially will enable the healthcare industry to manage its huge volumes of data, which needs validation and analysis, by its ability of critical computing and analytical ability (Kumar & Manjula 2014).

To sum it up the innovative technology is a way to improve the performance of healthcare systems by linking various systems via data and communications platform reducing redundant medical tests, improving and expediting clinical decision making, and thus, enabling access to all levels of healthcare for a wide range of conditions. With telemedicine, hospitals will be able to lower the cost of patient care and increase the effectiveness of chronic disease management. The measure collects all possible patient information to create thorough electronic health records (EHR’s) for each patient (Hoerbst & Ammenwerth 2010).

Facilities which can be incorporated to improve healthcare services in rural India

Rural India lacks basic services and infrastructure required for accessing minimum healthcare services, making it lagging behind the urban population. In order to make IT facilities successful across all regions, thereby bridging the rural-urban divide, certain elements are needed to be ensured, which have been arrived through exploration of varied reports and studies (Lisetti et al. 2003, Eren et al. 2007, Hoerbst & Ammenwerth 2010, World Health Organization 2011, Källander et al. 2013, Darrel et al. 2014, KPMG 2015, and  Deloitte 2015b) —

  • Stable source and supply of electricity and internet services in every rural area, so as to facilitate IT innovations applied.
  • Online individual account access to healthcare services by general citizens, so as to ease the procedure to gain knowledge about the nearest health centre or availability of certain specialist at a certain point of time or to book an early appointment and other such facilities without wasting much time and labour.
  • Hospital and clinics’ staff (doctor and nurses) can avail the IT facilities, making data management hassle free when checking any health reports and data of a patient or sharing the same with experts belonging to other cities or states.
  • Strengthening the telemedicine sector, by hiring more efficient staff and tele callers, so as to meet the vast rural population

An approach towards digitization of healthcare sector of rural India has witnessed some positive steps, through private investors. For instance, the Hewlett-Packard enterprise has recently introduced e-Health Centers, partnering with Narayana Health and have provided advanced but portable technologies like the cloud-based electronic medical record (EMR) and analytics. But still, the country has a long path to dwell on, for bringing its rural areas at par with the urban and also with global standards. A country, where nearly 22 million people have pushed towards poverty annually due to healthcare expenditure and private practice is largely dominated by self-proclaimed practitioners, telehealthcare though have emerged as a necessity, has evident challenges to mete out.


Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).



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