Pharma’s Digital Initiatives In India: A Missing Link

An interesting study – designed to investigate the challenges that Health and Human Services (HHS) organizations face in implementing digital and data solutions, stands out today – for many reasons. One such being, this ‘multi-country survey’ project team had no inkling about the pandemic when the project was undertaken.

This study was conducted by a research team from Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI), and was sponsored by EY. The survey comprises of more than 2,000 global HHS professionals – from India, Australia, Italy, UAE, the UK and the US. 359 respondents were from India.

The research passed through the phase when Covid related disruptions was about to put HHS providers through the most extreme stress test in living memory. ‘While the outbreak was catastrophic in its effects, it presented the researchers with an exceptional opportunity to study the sector’s behavior during a pivotal moment,’ the paper noted.

From this perspective, today’s article will explore, from various different sources, across the world, how Covid-triggered rapid development and adoption of digital solutions are in the process of making a paradigm shift in the healthcare space. It spans across – health care service providers, its users, and practitioners – including pharma industry and the tech-solution developers.

Consequently, the question arises, would healthcare industry’s innovative spirit of 2020 is robust enough for taking a quantum leap in this space, as we move on. That space will span across – conceptualization and development of new health care products and services, alongside their consumption pattern and consumer behavioral dynamics. And, right up to the adoption of cutting-edge digital technology for commensurate delivery mechanisms. Let me start with some key findings in this area from the above report.

Some key findings – Global and India:

The findings of the Report titled, ‘Embracing digital: is COVID-19 the catalyst for lasting change?’ published on January 13, 2021, ferreted out some interesting facts, with details. These encompass both global and Indian scenario, in this area.

Some key findings – Global:

  • Pre-pandemic – just 18% of HHS providers had managed to embed digital tools in the way they work – mostly, due to lack of funds, regulatory restrictions, and risk aversion. However, the pandemic outbreak swept away many of these barriers, as 62% of organizations have now started using digital technologies and data solutions, globally.
  • 48% organizations are planning to continue investing in technology during the next three years, with 33% expecting more than 50%, and 19% more than 100% increase in investment.
  • While phone consultations are being offered by 81 % of HHS organizations (up from 39 % before the pandemic), 71 % of organizations offering video consultations (up from 22 % before the pandemic).
  • Respondents’ top objectives for future investment towards rapid adoption of digital solutionsinclude, transforming ways of working and service delivery, improving quality of care, reducing the administrative load, enabling better communications, and streamlining work processes.
  • However, 47% of respondents think, the introduction of digital and data solutions was a temporary measure to address challenges during the pandemic.

Some key findings – India:

The Covid-19 pandemic triggered fast acceleration of the adoption of digital technologies by the HHS in India, as well.

  • 51% of respondents from India reported that their respective organizations have increased the use of digital technologies and data solutions since the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • Increased staff productivity reported for 74 % of respondents’ organizations with 75% reporting that digital solutions have been effective in delivering better outcomes for patients and service users.
  • Remote consultations, such as, phone and video consultations have witnessed a greater increase in India than the global average. 86 % of Indian organizations are now offering phone consultation (up from 48 % before pandemic) and 83 % for video consultations (up from 33 % before pandemic).
  • Around three fourth of the respondents in India reported positive experiences with digital technologies and data solutions with the number of people using online consultations in India recording a threefold increase.

This encouraging trend and pattern needs to be consolidated, analyzed, and leveraged – for sharper actionable insights for the development of more contemporary products and services to delight the pharma and health care stakeholders.

A key missing link in India:

The digital health transformation of India’s healthcare system during Covid pandemic was also captured in another article, published by Elsevier Connect on February 23, 2021. It reiterated, although the pandemic has made an overall detrimental impact impacted on India, ‘it has brought about an avalanche of positive changes, including the adoption of digital health technologies and significant changes to the way care is delivered.’ Looking ahead, ‘With the launch of national public health initiatives, India has an incredible opportunity to become a digital health leader,’ the paper predicted.

However, the author also pointed out, unambiguously, that the health care crisis caused by the pandemic has also brought to the fore a key missing link – the need for updated and near real-time availability of trusted information. This observation is more relevant now than ever before, especially considering India’s National Digital Health Mission (NDHM).

National Digital Health Mission – a new ambition:

While addressing the nation on August 15, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the National Digital Health Mission of India. He said in his speech, “From today, the national digital health mission will begin. It will revolutionize the Indian healthcare sector. Every Indian will be issued a health ID that will act like a healthcare account, storing details of all the tests done, existing diseases, diagnoses, medicines prescribed.”

The objectives of the mission are to establish a core digital health database, creating a system of Electronic Health Records (EHR) based on international standards, establish data ownership pathways, so that patients become the owner of their health records, and promoting health data analytics and medical research. This initiative by any standard, is expected to be a game changer, as and when it comes to fruition.

Subsequently, on June 25, 2020, the Union Ministry of Health, reportedly, wrote to the principal secretaries (health) of all states and union territories, asking them to extend full support to the NHA to create four registries — doctors, health infrastructure, health IDs and personal health records of patients. It also instructed the states to send the required details within the stipulated timeline without breaching the norms of data privacy.

Need to avoid any possible missing link in the NDHM:

However, the Harvard Business Review article, published on June 12, 2020, asserted that the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic not only presented a “mind-boggling array of challenges” exposed the limitations of the electronic health record (EHR) in helping physicians deliver care, especially in the United States.

It suggested: transformation of the EHR from an emphasis on a ‘person’s medical record’ – to an emphasis on their ‘plan for health’ and from a focus on ‘supporting clinical transactions’ to a focus on ‘delivering information’ to the provider and the patient, will be more meaningful.

Thus, it’s time for a new kind of EHR system in today’s perspective, as suggested by the HBR article, besides other domain experts. I am sure, competent authorities will take note of this transformation required in EHR initiatives to avoid any missing link in the new digital healthcare space in India.

As the above Elsevier Connect paper also observed, with the launch of national public health initiatives, such as, Ayushman Bharat and National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), India harbors an incredible opportunity to showcase its world class digital health ecosystem for all in the country.

To help fructify these projects, all key stakeholders – health care service providers, its users, and practitioners – including the pharma industry and the tech solution companies, need to get intimately involved with a common agenda in place. Falling behind may invite regrets, later.

Nonetheless, well before that – the common missing links in India - near real-time availability of credible data, trusted and verified information for adopting digital health for patients that will need to be provided by clinicians in a seamless manner, should be carefully identified and addressed.

New steps into digital healthcare are on the way:

Several new steps into digital healthcare have been taken in various countries of the world. One such initiative is ‘Internet Hospitals.’ These are basically an internet-medical-platform combining online and offline access for medical institutions to provide a variety of telehealth services directly to patients.

Deloitte paper – ‘Internet Hospitals in China: The new step into digital healthcare,’ published on March 16, 2021 says: ‘Online hospitals are typically offshoots of offline medical organizations. The combination of Internet with health care will drive the medical industry’s transformation into a health service provider from a health care supplier, distributing resources equally and enhancing efficiency,’ moving ‘towards future smart health care.’

Conclusion:

Covid-19 has created a new focus on the digital health ecosystem in India, for accelerating the use of digital technology to radically advance health care systems and save lives. Today, many are experiencing that, big data, analytics, artificial intelligence, remote learning, and data inter-connectivity, can make a real difference to the work of HHS professionals in India.

Embracing digital with accelerated speed during the pandemic, has reportedly started making a significant positive impact on the cycle of the patient’s clinical assessment, treatment, and monitoring. With increasing use, it would reduce the cost of health care, improve patient access to affordable treatment and care services, when many patients’ journey for disease treatment will start online, and get directed to the optimal care setting either physically or virtually.

The article on health-tech, published in the Fortune India on February 20, 2021, has aptly concluded: ‘Eventually health technology infusion in the Indian healthcare ecosystem will be the route to enhance patient-centric healthcare accessibility, affordability, and sustainability. The advent of 5G technology in the country is poised to further catalyze this momentum.’ This, in turn, will facilitate ushering in more game changing steps into digital healthcare, creating a new ecosystem, greater awareness and a keen desire to remain healthy for all.

Thus, from the GIGO perspective, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, I reckon, in pharma’s digital initiatives, especially in India, a key factor needs to be carefully addressed. This is – fathoming existence of any missing link involving near real-time availability of trusted information and credible data generation, which could indeed be a great spoiler of any painstaking digital adoption project.

By: Tapan J. Ray     

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

 

 

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