April 22InterviewIssue

There is No Shortage of Opportunities for Digital Health Tech Solutions in India

India’s telemedicine market is expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2025, spurred by a rise in teleconsultations, telepathology, teleradiology and e-pharmacy due to the pandemic. Sanjay Bapna, Chief Commercial Officer, MyHealthcare Technologies, reveals more in interaction with M Neelam Kachhap about the future of the market

Last year, and during the pandemic, many people accessed telehealth visits for the first time. What else has changed for telehealth in India?
The last two years of the pandemic have proved to be a defining time for the healthcare sector. The importance
of technology, more specifically the use of digital technology in the healthcare sector was brought to the forefront.
With lockdowns enforced, OPDs and hospital services closed – the use of digital solutions such as virtual consults, and telemedicine services became game-changers across the healthcare sector. While both patients
and doctors struggled at the beginning, both gradually learned and adopted the channel as one of the primary
mediums of care delivery. Hospitals and doctors who at first hesitated using telemedicine for a multitude of reasons soon realised its advantages and built services around it. India’s telemedicine market is expected
to reach $5.5 billion by 2025, spurred by a rise in teleconsultations, telepathology, teleradiology and
e-pharmacy due to the pandemic, this has resulted in significant growth in the number of telemedicine platforms in India specifically health tech startups like ours who are using technology at their core to bridge the healthcare
delivery gap.

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Also, the interest and excitement around telehealth have shifted into areas that historically people didn’t
think about. What are your thoughts?

The healthcare sector witnessed a significant increase in demand for virtual consultations, homecare/home isolation services during the second wave, under national lockdowns with OPDs, etc being significantly hampered. Doctors were doing virtual consults till midnight, seven days a week, to keep up with the patient load. It is incredible how they managed to stay afloat during those times.

The last couple of years has helped us understand doctors as well as patients and the nuances of their relationship much better. It has also helped digital health tech platforms to push technological innovations for better diagnosis and treatment where we are now seeing telehealth grow in areas such as dentistry and dermatology as well.

How can hospitals use telehealth to address patients they care for regularly, cancer patients, heart failure patients, hypertension patients, and those that require frequent interaction with the healthcare system?
During these unprecedented times while the world was reeling from the backlash of the pandemic and hospitals
and other medical institutions were overcrowded and inaccessible to at-risk patients with comorbidities or those in need of chronic care, telehealth played a huge role in bridging the gap for their care delivery.
To address the needs of patients who need uninterrupted care, teleconsultations at regular intervals
came as a saving grace for doctors to keep a track of the treatment plan and manage the care continuum. Health tech companies such as ours that focus on a holistic patient care ecosystem, have provided both doctors and patients with high-end video call facilities to ease the exchange of communication and also helped with an extended availability of doctors’ appointment slots throughout the day.

Remote monitoring systems that function in tandem with telehealth systems have assisted in accessing
patient vitals and maintaining patients’ historical records via necessary device integrations. For chronic patients,
speciality care programmes with long-term care protocols have been implemented and this has revolutionised
the process of care delivery through the advancements in telemedicine and telehealth.

Along with telehealth, the focus of startups like ours has been to bring the latest digital technology advancements into the ecosystem to ensure that we can provide functional and user diagnosis and treatment where we are
now seeing telehealth grow in areas such as dentistry and dermatology as well.

How can hospitals use telehealth to address patients they care for regularly, cancer patients, heart failure patients, hypertension patients, and those that require frequent interaction with the healthcare system?
During these unprecedented times while the world was reeling from the backlash of the pandemic and hospitals
and other medical institutions were overcrowded and inaccessible to at-risk patients with comorbidities or those in need of chronic care, telehealth played a huge role in bridging the gap for their care delivery.

To address the needs of patients who need uninterrupted care, teleconsultations at regular intervals
came as a saving grace for doctors to keep a track of the treatment plan and manage the care continuum. Health tech companies such as ours that focus on a holistic patient care ecosystem, have provided both doctors and patients with high-end video call facilities to ease the exchange of communication and also helped with an extended availability of doctors’ appointment slots throughout the day.

Remote monitoring systems that function in tandem with telehealth systems have assisted in accessing
patient vitals and maintaining patients’ historical records via necessary device integrations. For chronic patients,
speciality care programmes with long-term care protocols have been implemented and this has revolutionised
the process of care delivery through the advancements in telemedicine and telehealth.

Along with telehealth, the focus of startups like ours has been to bring the latest digital technology advancements
into the ecosystem to ensure that we can provide functional and user beyond that. You can use IoT devices
that are available at the patient’s place and as more and more IoT devices are used by patients that need continuous care management, the cost of devices will also come down. Today those devices are bought by very few people but as digital technology expands, as the usage of telehealth services expands the cost of the device will also come down and you will have more comprehensive remotely managed patients than ever before.

As of today, medical practitioners, clinicians and clinical establishments such as hospitals, clinics and labs are
exempted from GST. Start-ups and health tech companies, that are working towards using technology in making
healthcare delivery available to a wider population continue to come under the purview of GST. This burden increases the cost of healthcare for our patients across India.

In the coming years, we would hope and request the government to remove GST on healthcare service providers
and digital health companies directly involved in the process of care delivery. This would help relieve a whole lot of financial burden on us, allowing us to deliver quality and more affordable healthcare to our patients across the
country. This would be more than welcome at a time when our country is going through the third wave of the
pandemic.

There have been a lot of concerns about the quality of care in telehealth, what are your thoughts on the same?
I think it is quite the contrary. Telemedicine has evolved from mere doctor consultation to complete healthcare delivery for both acute and chronic care at home. Digital technology is also helping providers and clinicians in making healthcare delivery more personalised, as they are beginning to derive more meaningful and effective patient clinical data. All of this will contribute immensely toward hospitals, clinics and doctors offering effective patient-centric care and improving patient engagement. Good usage of teleconsultation and physical consultation blended is the ultimate goal. One of the ways to assuage these concerns that we as a health tech company have made a part of our implementation process is to handhold our users during the initial days of adoption.

What is your view of the ecosystem for telemedicine in India? What do you think of telehealth companies going
public?
It is no secret that digitisation and adoption of digital technology solutions have been laggard in India. However,
COVID-19 along with rapid growth of internet penetration, improvement in data bandwidth speed, reduced cost of digital hardware and improvements in cloud technology have brought about a significant change in the healthcare sector which would need to be backed by adequate financial resources from the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) to enable the digital change. Providers have embraced telemedicine in a big way over the past 18 months and all signs show that this sector alone will grow to $30 billion by 2026.

With a huge headroom for growth, there is no shortage of opportunities for digital healthcare technology solutions in our country. Telemedicine has expanded from mere doctor consultation to complete healthcare delivery for both acute and chronic care at home. Digital technology is also helping providers and clinicians in making healthcare delivery more personalised, as we are beginning to generate more meaningful and effective clinical data of their patients. All of this will contribute greatly to hospitals, clinics and doctors offering more patient-centric care and improving patient engagement.The increased adoption of digital technology by care providers will improve the access to quality healthcare and make it available to a wider population. Data suggests that
a majority population of our country does not have proximal access to quality primary care. Health tech startups like ours partnering with leading hospitals and clinics in creating scalable healthcare ecosystems will be a key
driver in democratising healthcare in India.This being said, there is a good chance of telehealth companies growing steadily and going public eventually.

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