The COVID-19 pandemic strained the Indian healthcare ecosystem. It highlighted a need to shift towards a more patient-oriented, digitalised, and technologically advanced healthcare system. Due to the rapid changes in healthcare technology and infrastructure, the healthcare sector has become community-centric, accessible, and affordable. It has shifted the focus to distant care in the post-pandemic world.
Telemedicine is a facet of distant care. Telehealth offers consultations over the phone, video calls, messaging apps, and emails. It allows patients to access the best physician care from the comfort of their homes while saving travel costs and time. The teleconsultations also provide patients residing in rural and tribal areas access to the urban healthcare infrastructure. The Indian telemedicine industry was valued at USD 1.10 billion in 2022 (1) and is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.2 percent from 2022 to 2030 and will reach USD 5.15 billion in 2030. The Indian government’s e-Sanjeevani telehealth initiative and startups like Practo, DocsApp, and mDiagnostics have led to this growth and awareness in the telemedicine industry.
Monitoring patients remotely through emerging technologies
There’s also an added emphasis on remote patient monitoring or remote patient management (RPM). It involves using information technology, wearable technology, and smart home devices to record and monitor patient vitals, such as oxygen levels, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc., outside conventional clinical settings. The RPM offers increased patient accountability and affordable quality healthcare at the doorstep. It also curbs risks of in-person infections and the need for admissions and emergency room visits. Remote monitoring is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 18.3 percent from 2022 to 2029 (2).
Supporting lifestyle changes and preventive healthcare
Since the pandemic, the priority of the healthcare sector has shifted from curative medicine to the adoption of preventive healthcare approaches. It includes immunisation against vaccine-preventable diseases, regular health check-ups for the early detection of ailments, and management of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, and hypertension through lifestyle changes. It also focuses on health tracking, physical fitness, and wellness. Preventive healthcare is also making space for startups like Cure.fit, Redcliffe, Smiles.ai, and Healthifyme. The preventive healthcare sector is growing at a CAGR of 22 percent and is projected to reach USD 197 billion by 2025(3).
Leveraging big data, AI and ML to deliver quality healthcare
The pandemic has accelerated the development and discovery of drugs with the help of big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Startups and healthcare providers are also leveraging these emerging technologies to improve patient outcomes, predict potential health problems, and improve the accuracy of diagnosis. It’s enhancing patient care, and accessibility and reducing healthcare costs for both the providers and the patients. Also, AI and ML are being used to improve patient engagement and care coordination. For example, startups like Practo, Healofy, Qure.ai, and AI Doctor are developing chatbots that answer patients’ questions, book appointments, and provide relevant health information, consequently eliminating time-consuming administrative tasks.
Prioritising healthcare insurance
The Indian healthcare system, with its focus on self-reliance, digital transformation, fair access to healthcare, innovation, and research, and drug and equipment manufacturing, is expanding at a CAGR of 22 percent (4). The industry was valued at USD 86 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach USD 367 billion in 2023 and USD 638 billion by 2025. This growth and the pandemic-induced health costs are also centre staging the healthcare insurance industry. The insurance companies now offer to cover COVID-19 treatments, quarantine costs, telemedicine services, and mental health treatments. The government’s Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana and Ayushman Bharat scheme also offer health insurance at affordable costs.
Delivering medicine through e-pharmacies
Internet penetration and digital payments have led to growth in the e-pharmacy space in India. As per a KPMG-FICCI report, the e-pharmacy market was valued at USD 344.8 million in 2021(5) and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 21.28 percent during 2021-27. E-pharmacies offer people convenient ways to purchase prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, health supplements, and personal care products from the comfort of their homes. Startups like Netmeds, Pharmeasy, Medlife, and Practo, who provide free home delivery services, easy ordering and payment options, and discounts and promotions, are helping change the dynamics of the healthcare sector.
Improving rural health infrastructure
The pandemic emphasised the lack of medical facilities and infrastructure in the rural areas of India. Therefore, in the post-pandemic world, healthcare stakeholders have been making healthcare accessible and cost-effective to the rural population of 903 million(6) people through digital avenues like telemedicine, remote monitoring, e-pharmacies, and government initiatives and insurance schemes.
Overall, digitalisation, emerging technologies, and government schemes and support are transforming the healthcare sector to practice health equity, precision, and impactful delivery of quality services at affordable costs to every citizen of the country.