The Future of Digital Health in India

The Future of Digital Health in India

Read Time: 6 Minutes

The digital health market has been booming in India since COVID-19, but the industry may face a reckoning once most of the nation has been vaccinated. Will doctors still schedule telehealth visits when it’s safe to meet in person? If not, how will digital health companies evolve to create an end-to-end experience that works for both the end user and the healthcare provider?

In a recent teleconference, GLG spoke with Amit Bhagat, Former Director – Marketplace at Practo Technologies, for insights into these and other questions. Below are a few select excerpts from our broader discussion.

How has COVID-19 impacted telemedicine, e-commerce, and health technology?

The pandemic was an opportunity for start-ups in the e-pharmacy and teleconsultations spaces. There were only about three million households who were comfortable ordering on e-pharmacy portals like Netmeds, 1mg, and Medlife pre-COVID-19. But the addressable market was around 30 million to 35 million households. COVID-19 was a catalyst, and numbers grew exponentially. The post-COVID-19 forecast is that approximately 60 million to 65 million households will place orders on e-commerce portals by 2025.

Should e-pharmacies partner with other telehealth companies instead of becoming full stack?

There are two questions here. The first is do they have the capital for it? The second is if the provider will be comfortable with multiple apps. Every firm will have its own app because there are a lot of security aspects and data privacy aspects involved. If the actual service delivery is happening through the doctor, and the doctor is not comfortable with these technologies, how will it work?

We must think from the provider side. In most cases, the customer is king. But in healthcare, the customer is not the king; the doctor or hospital is the king. The customer never decides. It’s the doctor and hospital who decides. This is how the industry works. Lots of start-ups have failed at this in the past because they make products by keeping only the consumers in mind. But we have to consider the provider. Time is very valuable for doctors, and they guard it carefully.

Does that mean after COVID doctors will just move from online back to in-person?

The doctor will always prefer to bring his patient into his clinic for the first consultation. He might conduct a follow-up online, but for the first consultation the doctor will always prefer to be face-to-face.

There will be fewer online consultations post-COVID. Right now approximately 70 consultations are happening online and 30 offline. Post-COVID-19, this will be somewhere around 50/50. And the online piece will likely come from segments like diabetes or gynecology.

What do you think digital health technology adoption will be in tier two and three cities?

Post-COVID, it will take hospitals time to carve out a separate budget for tech implementation. They don’t have technical expertise, so they don’t have their own IT or innovation teams. It is expensive to develop these things for a hospital. Accounts like Otis have gone for it and failed miserably. Small outsourcing firms who are experts in technology development are usually not reasonably priced, or they lack expertise. Hospitals also feel that their patients’ data will be compromised if their development is offshore.

In tier two, there are a lot of problems coming from lack of bandwidth. They don’t have the kind of money or expertise they need. They are busy with running their own businesses, getting more patients, and increasing their average bed revenue, which is not happening right now. So some kind of policy, industry participation, and government participation are required. I think that’s where the government is moving in announcing the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM). At least the prescriptions will be available online and available for everybody to pull it from the cloud.

How will the NDHM policy change the industry?

The only thing that is visible to me right now is the health ID piece. It will be very similar to Aadhaar, where all your medical reports and prescriptions will be stored and anybody can fetch them with your consent.

NDHM has talked about five or six building blocks, which are health ID, Digi Doctor, Health Facility Registry, Personal Health Record, which is PHR, and EMR. The first thing going live is health ID, and it is going to be launched in Union Territories with government hospitals. At this point there’s very little clarity on how the government wants to take this ahead, but I’m optimistic. We have seen the success of Aadhaar and UPI. NDHM is along similar lines.

About Amit Bhagat

Amit Bhagat was employed at Practo for more than five years, holding important positions including Director – Marketplace, General Manager – Marketplace, General Manager – Operations and Segment Head – Hospitals. Before this, Amit held the position of Co-Founder while working at Surgerica. Prior to this, he was Founder of Gram Financial Services, where he worked for 11 months.

This healthcare industry article is adapted from the October 21, 2020, GLG remote roundtable “Digital Health in India — On the Cusp of Innovation?” If you would like access to the full teleconference transcript or would like to speak with healthcare industry expert Amit Bhagat, or any of our more than 700,000 industry experts, contact us.

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