If we agree that technology can provide the means to address the resource gap in healthcare, the question to ask is, why has it not happened yet? In countries around the world, governments are experimenting extensively with the use of technology in healthcare but they have met with mild-moderate success.
We will consider the possible reasons for limited adoption of technology globally in the next blog.
Let us explore why technology hasn’t made a dent in your own healthcare experience in India. Think about the last time you were not feeling well or wanted to find a doctor for a loved one in the family. You may have asked for recommendations from a family member (if you’re lucky, there’s a doctor in the family).
You called the doctor’s clinic to take an appointment, went to the clinic when the doctor was available and followed the instructions he/she gave you. Perhaps, you were handed some written notes of your treatment or if your doctor happened to be a tech enthusiast, they punched in an electronic version of your handwritten notes and gave you a printout.
The next time you go to another doctor, you need to repeat your history, the new doctor will write new notes (that have nothing to do with the earlier ones) and the cycle will continue. The lack of information, transparency, choices and communication for a consumer of health care are staggering. And these are examples of upper middle class Indians visiting a private healthcare facility. We’re not even considering the 80% Indians going to public healthcare facilities!
The problem in India is the absence of a central policy-making authority for health. The government spends less than 1% of GDP on healthcare (that gives you a sense of where healthcare features on their priority list) compared to 7-8% globally that is considered optimal. The USA spends close to 18% of GDP on healthcare.
Most likely, the average Indian family today spends 5-6% of their earnings on healthcare (a figure that is rising rapidly!). Most Indians turn to the private sector to address their healthcare needs. The private health sector in India is highly fragmented. Over 95% of care is delivered by doctors running their own clinics and less than 5% care is delivered through large organized chains.
So even though the benefits of technology in healthcare may be obvious to all, there does not exist a large enough single player, which has the ability to invest in order to reap the medium to long-term benefits of healthcare technology. In countries where the government plays an active role in healthcare, this strategic function is discharged by the policy makers. In the absence of government intervention, it will be the market forces in India who need to find opportunity to use technology in delivering better healthcare. Somewhat like the private entrepreneurial sector, which has delivered healthcare to millions of Indians in cities and villages.