Opinion

Healthcare Landscape in 2024: Emergent Breakthroughs and Existing Challenges

Dr BS Ajaikumar, Executive Chairman, Healthcare Global Enterprises says that healthcare will move up the value chain with the use of a vast array of technologies

As we step into the new year, we continue to grapple with a sticky challenge rooted in an overwhelming contrast  between the bright side and the flip side. On the bright side, it is indeed heartening to note that disruptive innovation rooted in technological advancements, research breakthroughs, and clinical excellence is revolutionising healthcare in India, enhancing outcomes and quality of life for patients and improving access to,
and availability of, medical services.

In the case of cancer, technology, and clinical innovation are rapidly downsizing cancer, bringing it to the level of a chronic disease like hypertension and diabetes or heart disease. A case in point is laser and robotics, which have together made cancer treatment a day-care proposition. While laser technology has transformed early stage
laryngeal cancer treatments, robotics has dramatically improved advanced-stage cancer outcomes. Overall, a sea change has occurred in the manner in which we stage cancer, how we adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to cancer care, and how we apply genomics and molecular diagnostics in this sunrise era of precision medicine to
provide the right treatment the first time.

In 2024, we will see technology making the representation of reality even more interesting than reality itself. Robots and haptic sensory feedback will continue to add significant and sustainable value to site location, visualization, and human error mitigation. Healthcare will move up the value chain with the use of a vast array
of technologies including robotic surgery, laser therapies, extended reality, molecular targeted imaging, digital  pathology, and cellular immuno-oncology therapy.

The reducing divide between the bench and the bedside, a landmark development triggered by the pandemic, will continue to foster disruptive innovation in lab research and clinical processes. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and big data analysis will increasingly help in critical areas of healthcare like accurate diagnosis and early disease detection, minimising relapse risks, and reducing mortality rates. Going forward, advancements in  the form of customised cancer vaccines and gene editing will help us reimagine the future of cancer care and  cure across the globe.

Doctors will be able to study key patterns emerging out of biological and clinical data to make early interventions  tailored to individual patient needs. The diversity of omics including genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and radiomics will usher in a new era of precision medicine. On the flip side, nothing much has changed even in today’s day and age. India is still a country of two contrasting nations: one comprised of 500 million affluent and middle-class people who make the most of best-of-breed healthcare facilities, and the other made up of 1000  million deprived individuals who are struggling to survive at the bottom of the pyramid, having to contend with substandard healthcare even after 75 years since independence.

The quality of healthcare penetration in Tier II and III cities remains a glaring concern in India. The doctor-patient   ratio is heavily tilted in favour of urban areas despite the ever-growing demand for quality healthcare services in Tier II and III cities for treating the whole range of communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Our towns and villages need professionally managed and well-equipped hospitals to attract best-in-class doctors,  nurses, administrative and housekeeping staff, and conscientious healthcare activists. Building such a system will be a win-win for the community at large, as both service providers and patients won’t need to look at metros to seek job opportunities or to avail of medical treatment. The government has the better option of playing the role of monitoring agency, thereby incentivising efficient hospitals and penalising the suspect units. It should also set up an autonomous regulatory body to monitor the fund allocation and onground performance of private hospitals
and insurance companies. Another need of the hour is an advisory body comprising domain experts, technocrats, and government executives to ensure prudent and purposeful healthcare policies. The government can also  gainfully create an endowment fund by monetising impaired assets, unused real estate, and loss-making
ventures, and make withdrawals from the investment income of this fund for earmarked initiatives of critical sectors like healthcare. When it comes to diseases like cancer, the usual conversations in our country
are only about the cost. The quality of treatment and outcomes is largely ignored in the name of affordability. To what avail would ‘low cost’ be if the outcome itself is negated from the healthcare equation?

Offering subsidised rates to all patients, rich and poor, will never help a hospital achieve sustainable growth.
It is my earnest hope that 2024 will see more conversations around the need for adopting a value-based model  thriving on cross-subsidy, where the quality of care is the same, both for affluent patients paying a premium and poor patients availing of subsidised rates.

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