Right from a sharp change in consumer behaviour to a shift to alternate medicine, from the rise of digital health mediums to a shift in point-of-care monitoring and the growing significance of e-learning in medicine, these impactful changes will drive the future of healthcare in India

The coronavirus pandemic has once and for all taught us that globalisation can be wounded and world trade and economy be shaken by a health crisis. 

The world trade exchanges have changed from one that was quite predictable to a one that consists of several government blockades and daring heists.  Take for instance the vaccine issue which has been thrust into mainstream politics by superpowers such as the US. There is no doubt on the fact that the US government is actually striking collaborations with Big Pharma companies to accelerate vaccine development with a view to booking a larger chunk of the vaccine production for the US citizens. While other nations, influential leaders of the world and global health restoration groups urge political leaders to be fair in ensuring accessibility of vaccines, drugs and treatment to all.

Well, all this was meant to happen, given the current situation and the way the pandemic has swept economies and disrupted globalisation. Having said that, the world will heal and economies and globalisation will restore but many things will change forever. The silver lining remains in the fact that certain healthy changes that the pandemic bestowed upon us will have a lasting impact both on humans and on the healthcare systems across the globe.

Back at home, this pandemic will change many health and healthcare delivery habits for good. Here are 7 things that will have a lasting impact.

Change in consumer attitude towards health, hygiene and healthcare: Significance to health, hygiene and healthcare services has never been felt as much as it has been revered now since the pandemic struck us. Various global surveys and reports point out that the pandemic has created influenced consumer health behaviour. To give you a global scenario I would like to mention about a comparison study conducted by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) of American consumer sentiment before and during the pandemic reveals that people are accessing health information in new ways. The report also revealed that employers could play a greater role than ever in their employees’ health. Another report published by Capgemini Invent among the European population discloses that the pandemic has exacerbated consumer concerns over their physical and mental health and more so for younger age groups such as the Millennials. Over a third of consumers (35 per cent) say they are concerned that their mental health will deteriorate today, up from 26 per cent before the pandemic. Millennials and Gen Z are most concerned about their mental health today. Similarly, there is a growing significance in nutrition and lifestyle medicine. 

A shift to alternate medicine: Dr B M Hegde, a well-known cardiologist and Vice-Chancellor of Manipal University, Co-Chairman of the TAG-VHS Diabetes Research Centre, Chennai and the Chairman of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mangalore at a global gather before this pandemic had hinted that there could be the downfall of modern medicine and rise of alternate medicine. Addressing an audience of healthcare practitioners, students and more he had urged people for a lifestyle change.

During this pandemic, there has been a rise in demand for immunity boosting supplements and medicine, which serve to strengthen the immune system from within, showing a clear consumer preference for alternate medicine.At the onset of the pandemic, the ministry of AYUSH has opened up many opportunities for research and jobs in alternate medicine. The ministry has come up to new and specific guidelines for practitioners and offered various new courses for learning in AYUSH. All this and more indicates that going forward, the opportunities in this segment will be immense.

Overhaul of healthcare policies:  In the last few months, the government ramped up health infrastructure and undertook some structural reforms to combat the mounting health crisis. But this pandemic also brought to light the need for more investment, collaborations and need for better business policies within healthcare. The disruption of supply chains also reinstated the need to establish a strong domestic manufacturing base within healthcare. After which, the government embarked upon creating better collaborations with healthcare and Pharma industry in order to encourage self-reliance on the development of APIs, diagnostics reagents, emergency medical equipment and more. While most economists believe that the government cannot create more infrastructure by itself, it will need to create policies that will encourage investment in health. Going forward, the focus will be on creating new disaster management policies,  increased investment in research and training and new avenues for foreign investment in medical education.

The rise of digital health solutions: According to a Mercom Capital Group report on global venture capital (VC) funding in 2019, CDSS with $138 million was the sixth top-funded categories in Q3 2019. The report that tracks global VC funding activities that reported that the top-funded category was telemedicine ($651 million), followed by mHealth apps ($391 million), analytics ($201 million), mobile wireless ($173 million), healthcare service booking ($151 million). Practice management solutions trailed at the seventh position with $119 million. This was in the last quarter of 2019.  With the pandemic giving a push to the digital world, growth in these sectors has accelerated. Online portal Practo reported a 600 per cent increase in teleconsultation since the lockdown started, with the majority comprising of first-time users. Apollo Hospitals, also has 3,000 doctors join its 24/7 online platform in the last two months. the company expects two in five OPD consultations to go digital in the next three years.  Now, this trend is enabling sharp growth for e-health startups, with many IT and healthcare companies venturing into this space. That’s not all: The government’s national telemedicine service is clocking around 5,000 consultations daily. The next 10 years is going to be India’s ‘golden moment’ in key sectors like technology, pharmaceutical, telemedicine, medicine, e-commerce and manufacturing, says, MR Rangaswami, a top Silicon Valley venture capitalist, entrepreneur and philanthropist pointing at the $20 billion foreign direct investment in the country amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Likewise, a Frost & Sullivan’s recent analysis, Outlook of India’s Healthcare Industry, 2020 also points out that the government initiatives such as the National Health Portal, online registration system, and e-Hospital are expected to increase preference and adoption of e-Healthcare models. Telemedicine providers across the country have reported a 100 per cent increase in teleconsultations since April 2020. 

A shift to point-of-care and remote monitoring: While digital solutions will take a lead in future, healthcare providers will have to resort to point-of-care solutions and remote monitoring. This pandemic has highlighted that Now is a prime time to embrace and accelerate the deployment of remote patient monitoring remote monitoring can be a valuable tool to help healthcare professionals triage incoming cases based on each patient’s condition. The pieces are in place to support a more decentralised, yet personalised, model of healthcare. Remote monitoring and POC ensures that chronic conditions can be managed in a way that can improve outcomes and reduce the need for regular healthcare facility visits.

AI as a necessary tool: Prior to the pandemic, there were constant debates on the need and application and its significance in health. However, the pandemic completely changed this perspective and today AI has become a preferred tool for drug discoveries, to generate evidence-based clinical insights, predictive diagnostics, research on infectious diseases, bioengineering research, tracking tracing and more.The growth of AI in health will be exponential in the coming times. But this will mandate the need for governance, regulation and patient protection.

Significance of emergency e-learning in medicine: Across the globe, the pandemic has led to profound changes in social interaction and organisation, and the med-education sector has not been immune. Options such as teleteaching or the delivery of live teaching via online platforms are being explored. Currently, medical universities in the UK and many parts of the globe are utilising lecture capture technologies for continuing the education process for med students. Whilst online platforms may be sufficient for students in their pre-clinical years, senior medical students who are placed in clinical environments require patient contact. In India, the challenges are many. Here,  our medical education community and the infrastructure with regard to teleteaching at med-schools are yet to improve. Nevertheless, this option will be explored for early learning at med-schools in the coming times.

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