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India spends 3.16% of GDP on healthcare

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet, and the cause and prevention of disease” – Thomas A. Edison

A prediction made about 120 years ago by the founder of the light bulb couldn’t have been more significant today in the field of healthcare, led by the burgeoning potential that technology has to offer in aiding humans along with their medicines and treatments.

Today, a doctor in Bengaluru is able to monitor the blood pressure, heart rate, and weight of an individual in a remote village near Bagalkot through a remote patient monitoring system, and is able to provide real-time feedback that the blood sugar needs to be controlled, or a certain medication needs to be administered to alleviate what could potentially turn into a life-threatening condition.

What’s more? Artificial Intelligence (AI) models can now predict, to a certain degree, the possible time periods for death from a heart attack. Research showed how collected data of over 30,000 points in heartbeats for 256 patients, when combined with health records of patients for a span of eight years along with a machine-learning survival model using three-dimensional cardiac motion crunched out a time period when an individual was most likely to suffer an heart attack. Such critical data is already helping many doctors save precious lives, and ensure that patients are adhered to protocols and hence, leading healthier lives.

Technologies such as AI not only increases efficiency in treatment processes, but are becoming more and more apt at life-changing interventions. A couple of examples include how breast cancer detection has been improved by applying machine learning algorithms to mammography. A January 2020 paper in Nature showed how AI was able to detect diseases faster, and help doctors on the ground save more lives. Speaking about India, we spend a total of 3.16% of our GDP or about ₹5.96 lakh crores on health care, and 48.21% of this is spent out of pocket by individuals themselves. In another comprehensive May 2022 study on Indian healthcare by Harvard University and government think tank Niti Aayog, medicines were the biggest component of personal expenditure, followed by travel, food, and lodging.

Preventive health care hence, has the potential to raise funds into much needed healthcare research and contribute to the overall well-being of the nation.

But there is hope as we move forward. The Indian preventive health care sector, which includes the likes of fitness, wellness, supplements, early diagnostics and health tracking, is projected to touch $197 billion by 2025, according to a Redseer report. The report also showed that 40% of Indians would vouch for preventive health care more than reactive health care.

What are the top technologies that will aid the medical fraternity in the preventive health care wave?

Remote patient monitoring will remain a cornerstone for preventive healthcare, especially in a country like India. Some of the obvious advantages include reduced travel expenses, reduced medical costs, and most importantly, provides easier access to the common man to consult with specialist doctors. Did you know that 75% of all our doctors are concentrated in cities and towns, while 68.84% of the national population resides in rural areas? Preventive health care could create a much needed even playing field for all citizens, while, artificial intelligence will help to collate data of a patient’s medical records, history and current symptoms to make their suggested diagnosis and treatment much better and informed.

Another prominent point I would like to mention, is that innovative apps are now available that can help provide an initial diagnosis of one’s mental health, to get a rough idea before visiting a psychologist or a neuro specialist. One well known methodology is known as cognitive-behavioural therapy, which has now been encompassed under digital therapeutics, and has helped psychologists and health care experts to complement virtual, in-person therapy sessions.

As technologies, software and collation of data improves, smart devices will be able to network with each other to improve overall patient health outcomes. Doctors now have a prominent channel to instil long lasting behavioural change in patients through the power of AI. A Yale University research in April 2022 showed how AI could help health care providers and patients to predict drinking relapses, and adjust treatment even before they occur or even help track how long a person has been sober from drugs and monitor their recovery process, while looking for signs of relapse. The doctor is then alerted in such a scenario and an intervention can be done in the nick of time.

In a nutshell, the need of the hour is a stronger collaboration of the medical fraternity and the government to engage in preventive healthcare. This could be in the form of funds for preventive healthcare research, or through encouraging individuals to utilise wearable devices and start with the habit of instilling adherence and discipline, or through applications which can help us lead healthier and holistic lifestyles. Hindustan Times

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