Piyush Kumar
Associate Professor
IIHMR

Evaluating opportunities and managing challenges in COVID times

The numbers are plummeting across the globe. While the entire world is trying to grapple the present situation, the aftermath of this pandemic remains a matter of speculation. Though, this is going to end one day, but will life after the outbreak be the same as we had before? COVID-19 has brought a transformational shift in our lives.

Changes can be felt from the homes to hotel to malls and to boardrooms. Businesses are looming with uncertainty; boardrooms are buzzing with new strategies and trying to revamp existing business models. Almost all the industries have felt the blow with healthcare being no different.

Overnight capacity enhancement and preparedness to manage disaster gripped healthcare industry while putting the healthcare staff at risk. Though, successful measures have been taken at the government level, private healthcare industry has also been at the forefront despite facing multiple challenges. Hospitals-the sector already constrained with liquidity and cash flow, reduced demand for OPD and IPD services, loss of elective surgeries and disruption in logistics and supply chain put additional burden squeezing out the profit margins.

But there is bright side to it as well. COVID-19 crisis has put healthcare industry in key focus and dispensed unique opportunities. With the digital disruption assisting the sector and changing demand patterns following the pandemic, healthcare industry is in the spotlight.

Opportunities unleashed

Shifting tides in pharma and MedTech. India is one of the largest providers of generic medicines globally, yet a lot of potential remain untapped until the emergency response towards COVID-19. With COVID-19 and China’s questionable ways, trend for Made in India has set in. Fueled by the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, this will open opportunities for Indian industries for a global power play in generic medicine, APIs, surgical and consumables, and PPE kits etc. Besides, companies shifting base from China to India would further strengthen the ecosystem with M&A, technology transfer, and opportunity to internalize the supply chain. Diagnostics sector has already seen up upward demand curve off late and realized competencies in making ventilators and other equipment. Leveraging the recent technology, diagnostics sector is gradually moving toward a high demand for point-of-care (PoC) devices providing personalized care with hygiene and convenience.

Personal hygiene going public. Personal hygiene has remained grey are for India for long, however it has gained a lot attention due to COVID and has brought about a permanent and sustained focus toward hygiene. Expected to cross USD 15 billion by 2023, this segment present opportunities for startups in basic hygiene and sanitation practices. The emerging green consciousness sets forth the demand for eco-friendly products with new clientele being schools, colleges, and corporates.

Digital boost to healthcare. Technology has already been driving the mega shift in healthcare consumption pattern and business models; this has gained a massive boost due COVID-19. Consumers have developed compatibility and better engage now to the digital healthcare platforms. According to FICCI, household ordering of pharmacies grew by 2.5x amid lockdown and the shift in consumer behavior it is expected to grow by 8x in 4 years. Given the increased dependence for online healthcare, the virtual hospitals could soon be a new normal, blending the advanced development in IoMT, AI, Machine Learning, data analytics, and telecommunication technology. More people are now tapping into home healthcare, in lieu of hospital visits. However, growth could be leveraged in niche segment like ICU care at home and hospice care. Besides, times are calling for overhauling of the existing hospitals and reevaluate the business propositions. Hybrid model in hospitals bifurcating specific service to be delivered online and offline could be the future, enabling cost control, scalability, and efficiency.

Public health in focus. Public health expenditure is expected to increase by 2.5 percent of GDP (existing 1.3%) by 2025. Recent estimate for healthcare funding for FY22-FY26 are way 21 percent higher than the previous one focusing on the emerging areas and post COVID reforms needed in the healthcare sector. With this, one of the biggest opportunities lies ahead for transforming the public healthcare system in India. Potential lies in public health management, primary healthcare, preventive, and promotive healthcare.

COVID-19 management–The IIHMR way

The jolt was equally felt in healthcare academics sector as well. Classes were discontinued on priority. Uncertainty loomed over the continuation of academic curriculum, industrial trainings, and management development programs. At IIHMR, Bangalore, we were quick enough to respond towards ensuring the continuity of our ongoing classes and switched over to the online mode for teaching purpose. On priority, a comprehensive learning program in sync with the leading healthcare industry stakeholders was planned and implemented to engage students in live projects and consulting. Courage unlocked in the lockdown at IIHMR; our students actively supported the COVID-19 management on grounds while pursuing their industrial training with industry stakeholders like RxDx, Keeklee Consulting, Narayana Health, Fortis, BestDoc etc. with an unfailing spirit.

Individual social responsibility (ISR) was embraced by many of our students. More than 15 projects for COVID-19 care support were implemented (12 more projects in pipeline) by students at individual level in their neighborhoods, guided by our faculty members. Learning knows no age, no boundaries! Leveraging technology, we scaled up our learning programs and conducted more than 35 faculty development programs and OnLive events supported by our faculties and partnering with AICTE, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Indian Optometric Association and other KOLs of healthcare industry. The FDPs and events were themed around COVID-19 preparedness, mental health and well-being, healthcare laws, digital health, telemedicine, nutrition and health management, design thinking and trends in healthcare industry, to name a few. It also included skill development workshops for doctors and management professional in hospital, pharmaceutical and public health sector. A master stroke was played by our global alumni network under a webinar series Master Stoke by sharing industry best practices, clarifying doubts, and conducting skill building workshops on regular basis.

Going forward, IIHMR Bangalore plans to bring in force a Blended Model of learning in healthcare management, encompassing online and offline teaching. Online certificates courses focused on digital health, Artificial Intelligence in healthcare, health insurance, hospital management and data analytics would soon be introduced. This would largely benefit the working professionals seeking higher management roles and people seeking distant education. Management of pandemics at industry and public level is another area we are converging our energies on and further enhancing our expertise in sync with our research and consulting arm which offers services in hospitals and public health sector.

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