by Sameer Raje United Nations’ World Population Prospects-2022 has indicated that by 2030, the number of senior citizens in India will nearly double to touch 192 million. As we commemorated World Health Day this April, it is as much an opportunity to reflect on key public health successes as it is to start tackling the health challenges of tomorrow. For India, the next big dilemma is clear: its rapidly ageing population.
Coping with this will entail an increase in manpower demand across hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and community active ageing centres, among others. While the Union Budget 2023-24 showcases the government’s focus on transforming the healthcare sector by first ensuring that there are sufficient frontline medical professionals in the hospitals, the pressure on healthcare workers will continue to mount as demand for their services far outstrips supply.
Taking lessons learnt from past crises might be the answer. We know that virtual consultations had been a shot in the arm when the pandemic hit. Telehealth came into focus as a key enabler of India’s healthcare system then.
Technology in healthcare can no longer be viewed as a stopgap measure when needs arise, but a way to future-proof against incoming challenges. As such, tackling the unprecedented increase in the country’s ageing population requires a two-pronged approach, starting with optimising the existing healthcare workforce. With the union health ministry’s telemedicine platform – eSanjeevani clocking over 10 crore teleconsultations till February 2023, continuing to ramp the use of teleconsultation is a step in the right direction, beyond time and cost savings for patients, virtual consultations make care delivery more productive for providers. Clinicians can not only see more patients but prioritise in-person consultations for those requiring more critical care.
Patient care is the heart of the business of healthcare, but it is only one part of the equation. Digitalising essential administrative functions like patient data collection and filing, billing, vendor meetings and employee relations can make these tasks easier and less time-consuming. This helps healthcare providers become overall more efficient and save costs.
This also means healthcare workers can focus on what matters most: improving care outcomes throughout the patient journey.
As more of India’s population ages, healthcare institutions need to be more farsighted. This includes investing in technology to reduce reliance on human labour. Simple tasks like non-intrusive vitals measurement, delivery of medicine and even follow-up consultations can be automated using telerobotics, supervised by human professionals. Artificial intelligence-enabled features like automated transcription and translation on teleconsultation platforms alleviate concerns over hiring dialect-speaking staff, who are already in shortfall. Meanwhile, virtual receptionists can greet patients at the lobby and direct them to the right appointment rooms.
This could be a gamechanger for these frontline workers, who can now enjoy the flexibility of managing some of their tasks remotely. In addition, they can devote their limited hours at work to higher-value functions, such as those requiring a personalised touch or best delivered via a face-to-face touchpoint. These can include discharge planning, care coordination, nutrition, and illness prevention efforts, which can be made more efficacious with personalisation.
As healthcare institutions in India continue to decentralise, automation is key to ensuring that manpower keeps up. There is more that technology can do to support this essential group of workers, who are already facing widespread burnout amid the protracted pandemic. Flexibility will become central to this vision, helping healthcare institutions meet patients where they are and collaborate anywhere.
Consider this: an accident involving an elderly individual occurs near a clinician who is working in a community clinic. The clinician pulls on a pair of hands-free smart glasses to examine the patient, who may have underlying conditions due to his age. The patient does not need to commute to other healthcare facilities, which will delay critical treatment. Instead, data is seamlessly transmitted in real-time to the nearest hospital via high-quality video on his goggles, where a team of experts can gather virtually to provide the necessary insights for the clinician to administer immediate care.
India’s ageing population might be the next hurdle for the country’s healthcare system, but it will not be the last. Rather than replacing the need for healthcare workers, technology needs to serve as the catalyst from which a sustainable system is built.
Ultimately, this means enabling healthcare professionals to become more efficient, effective, and in a way that helps them do their best work – laddering into the goal of continually improving care outcomes for patients in India.
Sameer Raje, General Manager and Head, India & SAARC Region, Zoom Video Communications, Inc.
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHealthworld does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person / organisation directly or indirectly.)
Leave a Reply