How Doctors in Rural Area Can Use Technology

India’s healthcare system, much like the healthcare systems across the globe, is witnessing an overhaul. Increased use of technology and greater digitisation efforts are being taken to make our healthcare system more organised, efficient and effective. While this holds true for the urban areas of the country, India still has a very large rural population that still is wanting basic healthcare facilities and hardly has access to good doctors. Given the pace at which urbanisation is increasing, it is almost dismal to know that even today, when India is helmed as one of the fastest growing nations and produces some of the greatest intellectual capital across the globe, the World Health Organization’s ‘2000 World Health Report’ ranks India’s healthcare system at 112 out of the 190 participating countries.

What is abundantly clear is that it is this rural segment that can benefit the most from the Digital India initiative as it aims to connect rural India with the rest of the country through the network of high-speed Internet. The Digital India initiative also aims to increase digital literacy and plans to connect all the villages across the length and breadth of the country through mobile networks by the end of 2018. To put it in numbers, by 2018, if everything goes as per schedule, then 44,000 villages who are currently cut off completely from all technological developments, will also be able to reap the benefits of the technology and digitisation.

Presently, the rural healthcare infrastructure suffers from a dearth of qualified doctors, inadequate medical facilities, insufficient specialised care, non-access to basic medications. With 60%, that is almost 700 million people, facing this grim healthcare situation, it is high time that technology is leveraged efficiently to close this widening healthcare gap. Without getting into the details of the nuances of the public healthcare system and its areas of improvement, let us, simply take a look at how doctors in rural areas can leverage technology and improve patient outcomes.

Telehealth

According to the World Health Organization, the stipulated doctor to patient ratio should be at 1: 1000. In India, this stands at 1:1700. Along with this, there are approximately are 6-6.5 lakh doctors working currently in the country. By 2020, this number needs to increase by 4 lakh more to balance out the doctor –patient disparity. Most of the rural population has to travel an approximate 20 kilometres to access good doctors. Greater adoption of mobile and better internet connectivity in villages can shorten these distances leveraging telemedicine facilities. Multi-specialty hospitals such as Medanta have operational telemedicine services to help healthcare accessible to all irrespective of their geographical location. Individual doctors too can leverage mHealth and telemedicine to reach out to a large rural population. The patients can consult with specialists when the need arises using telemedicine.

EHR

Personalised care, too, should not be a luxury afforded only by the urban population. Doctors in rural areas can also offer personalised care by leveraging EHR systems to increase their efficiency and quality of care, record and store valuable data and manage critical healthcare information. Using technology, doctors can make sure that they can access this data anytime and anywhere. This can help greatly in disease management, sending timely reminders to the patients for health checks or medications and also for conducting health assessment and research. It can also help rural doctors eliminate dubious healthcare practices by educating the rural population about good healthcare practices and give them the ability to understand when they need to seek medical help.

Big Data

Rural India is a goldmine for clinical data. Leveraging big data and data analytics, doctors can look at identifying triggers and causes for poor health. For example, India has one of the highest rates of maternal and neonatal death. By looking at these data patterns, doctors can identify the causes leading to this and then can push for addressing these issues. Lack of qualified doctors, inadequate nutrition of expecting mothers, poor hospitals which are lacking even in basic infrastructure, lack of medications etc. are just some of the points that have been identified as the cause of maternal deaths in India based on the data story. Clearly, digging deeper into the data will provide greater insights and help in identifying risk factors, both social and environmental, and help in improving clinical outcomes.

Mobility

In India, several healthcare organizations have started using mobile phones and IVR services to educate the expectant mothers about the care they need to take and make them aware of the best practices in sanitation. Medical helplines allow patients to ask questions to medical experts and get the answers. With a severe shortage of doctors in rural areas, many times, health care workers attend to patients. These health care workers can access important health related information through national healthcare portals and help the patients.

Doctors in rural India can further leverage technologies such as remote diagnostics, HIS, healthcare informatics and EHR etc, to bridge the gap that divides rural and urban healthcare and help a very large piece of the population access improved, cost-effective, and affordable healthcare. Looking at the rate at which digitisation is increasing in India, we can surely say that with the right use and adoption of technology, the rural healthcare system will definitely take a turn for the better and make a million lives better.

How Doctors Can be More Engaged With Their Patients

Patient engagement can be considered the holy grail of healthcare. As healthcare providers look towards technology and tools to improve operations and costs and boost patient engagement, doctors too, are now opening up to technology use to help their patients manage their health better. However, while healthcare providers look at providing ‘value’ to the patient by utilizing technology, the essence of patient engagement in the real sense is illustrated only when the physician and the patient work together not only during times of poor health but in times of good health as well. Considering doctors are busy and pressed for time, they can leverage the same technology to stay connected with their patients and enhance the patient experience. As almost 80% of the doctors own a smartphone, they can now connect with their patients on the go.

Telemedicine

Gone are the days when the good old doctor could come for a home visit to assess your physical health. However, doctors can use Telemedicine technology to connect with patients on an ongoing basis to assess their current health conditions. In countries, such as India, where there is a huge rural population and skewed doctor-patient ratios, telemedicine can be leveraged to ensure that proper health care services reach a majority of people. In the urban landscape too, doctors can leverage telemedicine facilities to interact with patients and help them manage their health. Considering the amount of time we spend traveling from one point to another, telemedicine can be a huge boon when you just want to discuss preventive medicine or take immediate advice if a health problem needs to be addressed in the emergency room or it can wait until the next morning.

Patient Interaction Systems

Doctors can also leverage Patient Interaction Systems to improve their patient interaction. A great patient interaction system will enable two-way communication by SMS, email, and even IVR. Appointment confirmations, instant notifications and updates, post appointment messages etc. can be delivered by these systems. When doctors are proactive about their interactions with their patients, they too are more satisfied. This can improve a doctor’s online reputation as these interactions can increase patient response rates to social media and other surveys. Along with this, doctors can also send out post-consultation updates to their patients using chat and SMS services to ensure that the patient does not miss out on any vital piece of the information that he/she needs to maintain his health.

Mobile App

While mHealth has become quite popular with patients, digitally inclined doctors too are leveraging mobile apps to improve their practice. Doctors can use mobile apps to look up drug and disease information, discover other providers for consultations and referrals, find lab guides, get answers to critical clinical questions, centralize all patient related information for easy access, view and share medical information, get feedback and even monitor a patient remotely. Further mobile apps are a great way to keep track of patient appointments and avoid overlaps along with address the needs of running a practice. Practice management becomes very easy with mobile applications as all important documents are hosted in one place and are integrated. Since no time is wasted looking for previous history and other relevant information when a patient comes for a physical meeting, the doctor can utilize the time to concentrate on having a meaningful conversation and boost effective interaction with the patient.

Tutorials

We are now entering the age when patients want to leverage preventive healthcare. However, there is a serious lack of qualified information regarding the same. Most people reach out to Dr. Google to get answers to some of their pressing health care queries as they feel that their doctor might not have the time to answer their questions – They, after all, are not unwell. Doctors can become a part of this preventive healthcare drive by leveraging technology and uploading tutorials on preventive healthcare and give practical advice to people on how they can manage their health better and answer the questions that are asked regarding the topic in discussion. This information can greatly benefit the patients as they will be getting their information from a qualified and dependable source and thereby increase the scope for patient engagement.

By leveraging technology, doctors can ensure better physician-patient interactions, enable preventive health care and ensure that their patients are more involved in their personal care. High patient engagement then, just becomes a consequence of these great interactions.

Healthcare and Technology

In the year 2010, 21-year-old Ravindra Mokashi, a resident of Vada village in Thane district, was stricken by an almost debilitating pain around his mouth and throat. Ultimately, swelling in the area combined with an inability to swallow even a morsel of food, forced Mokashi to make the long trek to the Thane District Hospital in Thane city. But doctors there were unable to identify what appeared to be a growth near his throat.

It was then that they consulted specialists at KEM Hospital Pune with the help of a telemedicine centre that had been set up at both healthcare centres less than two years ago. Doctors in Mumbai, after studying Mokashi’s case, diagnosed him with a rare condition, schwannoma of hypoglossal nerve, a benign tumour. “We didn’t know if the mass was a normal occurrence or not. So we consulted doctors at KEM. The verdict was that the benign growth had to be operated on immediately,’’ said Dr V Kalwanda, Thane District Hospital. Mokashi underwent surgery on February 15, where doctors removed an almost four-cm-long mass of tumour.

Source: Times of India

This is just one of the case where telemedicine has helped a patient. In Pune since the start of telemedicine in KEM hospital, rural Maharashtra has benefited from it in several ways. Such stories can now be found in other states such as Rajasthan, Assam, Bihar and all over India.

Telemedicine now makes a mockery of distance and provides a timely and expert doctor care to the people residing in the remote parts of the country.

Our healthcare system even helps out several African countries with telemedicine. In a closely monitored project by our previous President APJ Abdul Kalam, India helped connect several remote areas in African countries and provided the people there with much needed healthcare at affordable rates. In addition the ill-equipped and under staffed hospitals of such African countries can now discuss medical cases and even perform critical operations under the supervision of expert medical counterparts sitting in India.

Technology has advanced in order to deliver healthcare in more ways than one. Now people are no longer stuck up with what their doctor tells them.

The first thing an internet-savvy youth does when he is facing some form of physical pain or discomfort is put the symptoms on a search engine to find out what is ailing him. Information exchange has become so easy that medical reports of an Indian patient are sent to specialist sitting in U.S. or Europe to get a second opinion.

Patients today are not satisfied by just simply following what their doctors tell them. They seek second opinion, they search for possible causes, they investigate medicines and their side effects that a doctor may have suggested. Patients also pose different question to their doctors about their medical condition and treatment they’re undergoing. Ease of access to information has empowered them to take informed decisions and presented them with more suitable choices.

Alternative medicines are getting lot of focus with the advent of technology in healthcare industry. This has kept the medical fraternity also on their toes, to diagnose better, to suggest better options that include non-invasive and other safer methods.

Websites with information on medicine and alternative medicine have mushroomed in past few years. Mobile apps can help you track your medicine schedule, can keep a track of your vitals, medical reports and much more.

At the minimum every nook and corner of the country is equipped with a phone, every other person in the country now carries a mobile. Even this piece of technology has made remarkable strides in providing and receiving healthcare. With this easy mode of communication, patients interact with their friends and relatives at different places to get more information about the cures to their ailments or specialists available in different parts of the country.

20 years back this was not the case, a patient was at the mercy of doctor and his treatment and in some ways this is still the case. Technology has changed this picture for the better and continues to do so. In the years to come it will help each and every Indian receive better medical care at affordable rates.

Savetime.com is also another small step in this direction.

AbhinavAbhinav is CTO at savetime.com. Besides the work he likes to be involved in several different exciting things.  Technology interests him but more than that the usage of technology to solve real world problems excites him more.  Working with teams to achieve difficult targets and in the process helping individuals realize their full potential is one of  his skills. He is an ardent blogger and social media enthusiast. When not working, he is either blogging, reading or bicycling.