The healthcare industry has faced a major challenge in 2020. This has made everyone wake up to the changing scenario of healthcare in India. One of the major changes is the increasing trend for teleconsultation. COVID has scared everyone to move out of their homes. So unless there is a dire emergency, people prefer to avoid visiting a hospital. We started telehealth services even before COVID, as an outreach program to reach out to the rural population and offer them specialist consultations. This became very popular during the pandemic, and we are able to prove healthcare consultations, advice, prescriptions all in the comfort of the homes of people even within the vicinity. The software industry has been a huge support for this program which is the new norm. Payments are all made on-line via various portals. Cash payments have reduced at all levels as handling cash is one of the ways to spread COVID.
Another important fall out of the pandemic is insurance cover for healthcare. In India unlike most of the western countries, people were not serious about taking health insurance. Now, majority of the educated people are aware and are taking cashless health insurance. For the poor, the government has the Ayushman Bharat scheme, which is a form of health insurance, and a huge benefit for all.
The Indian health industry is headed for a major transformation in the next few years. Robotics in surgery, Artificial Intelligence in many fields to guide diagnosis and treatment are here to stay. New vaccines produced in India, drugs manufactured in India will all be supplied to the rest of the world.
The Ruby Hall Clinic group of hospitals has already got a Da Vinci Robot, a green laser in urology. We are starting with a very sophisticated EMR system which we hope will revolutionize the medical records system. The laboratory is equipped with the latest automated equipment. The imaging department is expanding with an additional MRI, mammography with stereotactic biopsy facility, the PET scan facility is the latest, and the radiation department has true beam and halcyon in addition to the conventional linear accelerators.
The hospital software (HIS) is due for an upgrade to match the best in the industry. The challenges are many–with the present pandemic, footfalls in the hospital have reduced to almost 30-40 percent of the earlier good times. Revenue has reduced. Staff salaries continue to be rising with additional cost of PPEs and N95 masks, gloves, etc. So despite the dream to make it paperless, efficient, robust, whilst reaching out to the community at large shortfall in the revenue is a huge challenge. The post graduate students from all specialties are doing COVID duties, which are compromising their time in their respective departments thus reducing their training time. Also, staff falling prey to Covid is posing a shortage at work.
Another major challenge is migration of nurses to Middle East and the West for better salaries. Why can we not retain them for our own healthcare? Why can we not pay them better so that they do not think of migrating? They train in India and then go overseas that is a huge loss to our healthcare system. My ultimate dream is to produce the best medical professionals (both nurses and doctors) with standardized training and the ability to retain them, have the best healthcare facilities across the country which is affordable, cashless, fast with minimal waiting times, reachable to all–urban and rural population, and yet world class, so that we attract people from across the globe to come to India for diagnosis and treatment.
Is it too much to dream? Or is it possible in the near future?
I am an optimist and hence am positive that this is achievable.
The author is Director Laboratory & Quality, Ruby Hall, Pune, and Chairperson, HICC.