By Deepak Sahni
The Emergence of a New Era
The Covid-19 outbreak that started off as an epidemic in the late month of 2019, quickly turned into a pandemic and brought the world to its knees by March 2020. Previously unheard terms in peacetime, such as social distancing, quarantine, and lockdowns became the common norms. Besides giving us all a deep understanding of our mortality, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the world how frail its critical health infrastructure is and exactly what happens when the system is stretched to a brink.
Jump to April 2021 and the Covid-19 second wave hit just about every country in the world like a tsunami. However, its ferocity was and is still being felt in a much profound manner in India. This extraordinary pandemic has thrown lives into disarray in ways no one could have predicted, causing disturbances in practically every sector of life. Even as the overall number of cases passed the dismal milestone of one crore, India’s campaign against coronavirus has seen several lockdowns and progressive relaxations over the last 11 months.
As the government has restricted movement and curbed non-essential visits to hospitals and labs, hospitals and labs could face a fall in revenues as patients are choosing to opt-out of or delay elective surgeries and checkups. The hospital-reluctancy is adding further strain on the already cash-strapped hospitals that have witnessed an alarming drop in the number of non-Covid related treatment and diagnostic tests.
Startups in the healthcare space could face some adverse impact of negative investor sentiments, product development and innovations could become sluggish due to lack of funding and losses. Companies offering at-home services like diagnostics and medicines would also face massive losses as fear of infection due to contact is rampant.
In the age of 24×7 news transmissions and the vulture-eyed social media, the images of a rattled and perpetually shattered Indian healthcare system were beamed to the TV sets across the globe. But where many have resigned to the ‘doom & gloom’ aura of the pandemic, yet where there’s a challenge, there are also opportunities.
The Future 3-R’s of the Indian Healthcare System
The massive impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been a wake-up call for the government and the private sector, emphasizing the importance of a robust healthcare system that can handle the next pandemic. Now, the pertinent question remains how to implement this realization into concrete steps on the ground. This is where the 3-R’s of the resurrection of India’s public healthcare system come into play. Here’s how:
The digital age has transformed the healthcare sector in ways unimaginable about a couple of decades ago. The proliferation of mobile devices and the expansion of the Internet to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities brought healthcare services to the masses in the form of telemedicine, healthcare mobile apps, and doorstep delivery pharmacies.
Home diagnostics has arisen as a savior for people confined at home, and positive experiences have triggered a mindset shift amongst masses from lab visits to at-home checkups. Just like Telemedicine, Home diagnostics is still at a nascent stage and lacks penetration at the moment, but this is bound to change as people have understood the convenience of at-home tests.
Soon, home diagnostics will define how we view medical tests and health checkups. Whether it’s chronic conditions like diabetes or thyroid that require constant and frequent monitoring or preventive health checkups, the diagnostics category’s inflection point has arrived this year with home diagnostics set for unprecedented growth.
India’s GDP allocation to the healthcare system is a mere 1.5%, while the developed countries spend anywhere between 10 to 18% of their GDP on healthcare. The ongoing second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has now compelled the government to revisit its budgetary allocations to increase healthcare spending in an effort to boost the country’s health infrastructure and capabilities.
As per reports, the government is keen on increasing the healthcare budget by at least 50% with an additional investment of Rs. 111 trillion via its five-year investment plan. A good move indeed, if it’s implemented in its entirety. Revitalization of the healthcare system is the need of the hour and there can be no excuse for being under-prepared for the next colossal public health emergency scenario.
The private healthcare sector adds 3.3% to India’s GDP annually and has proven to be a relief for the public healthcare system by taking off a significant portion of the load. During the pandemic, the private sector played a vital role in delivering healthcare services to the pained population. However, this sector remains largely unregulated, which creates significant issues for the public, with sky-rocketing prices, unnecessary diagnostic tests, and monopolization of services as per the private hospitals’ whims.
The pandemic on the other hand has provided the government and regulatory bodies with a unique opportunity to reshape strategies and further boost the public-private partnership. This in turn will make the private healthcare sector more accountable, regulated, and will assist in enabling the private entities in realizing the public health objectives.
The lack of oversight and accountability in the private healthcare sector throws a wrench into the overall healthcare cog. Premium medical regulatory bodies such as Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), National Accreditation Board for Testing & Calibration Laboratories (NABL) need to lay down guidelines for mandatory certifications for all private sector labs in the health domain. This will help ensure the availability of good quality, standardised, and affordable healthcare to the masses.
Deepak Sahni is the CEO and founder of Healthians
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHealthworld.com does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly)