Prepping for a remote, contactless healthcare service delivery in India: The essentials by Anusha Ashwin, @ashwin_anusha

The increased need for an acceleration in digital transformation in a post-COVID world is a no-brainer to understand. Healthcare service providers were rather compelled to adapt and digitally innovate to face the unprecedented pandemic in as less than two to three months, pushing hospital IT infrastructure to go above and beyond to find new ways of attending, responding, and treating to in- and out-patients remotely.

The primary adaptation was to digitally connect to the trusted patients, who needed sustained care for complications other than COVID-19. Apart from the need to digitally connect with the patient, healthcare providers became aware of the fact that it is important to maintain medical records in the electronic format. 

Some adapted quickly but a few others, especially the small- and medium-sized hospitals, were baffled by the sudden disturbance in the functioning of hospitals. What seemed normal is suddenly not so normal today. The new normal is telemedicine, telehealth, mhealth and all care giving forms taking place over virtual platforms, where the physician and the patient have zero contact between them. 

It is only fair to say that today’s hospitals despite its size, location, and service have to digitally transform with no choice. Technology and digital transformation will continue to play a vital role in health systems and transition towards the next normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Until the virus is completely under control with herd immunity and vaccine at play, a large number of patient population from urban and remote are going to demand healthcare services to be delivered at the comfort of their homes. By now, even if 15% of the Indian population had experienced the tangible benefits of telemedicine, then the doctors/caregivers have to get the grip of the larger picture and act fast. 

As a testimony to this fact, eSanjeevani – Ministry of Health’s telemedicine initiative – has announced that as of October 12th, the platform has recorded 5 lakh teleconsultations in a short span of time. The last one lakh consultations were completed in a record time of 17 days. As a digital modality of healthcare services delivery, eSanjeevani has shaped into a parallel stream for the Indian healthcare delivery system with the number of teleconsultations per day on the platform touching 8,000 mark in the last few days. At present 26 States are using eSanjeevani’s two variants of telemedicine namely – doctor to doctor (eSanjeevaniAB-HWC) and patient to doctor (eSanjeevaniOPD).

Meeting requirements – what is necessary?

As health systems head into the ‘next normal’ after COVID-19, there will be certain standard expectations from patients. They would assess hospitals based not on physical facilities but digital facilities. Requirements that will dictate a hospital’s worth – the IT asset and its ability to touch and heal patients with zero contact will be the new benchmark. Automation in billing and automation in recording data will become prerequisites. 

To know exactly on what is needed, two experts in this field share their views, opinions and experience with HCITExpert Blog. The experts are Afsal Salu, co-Founder and CEO at BestDoc, who is known for his expertise in improving patient experience at hospitals and Vinayak Venkatesh, COO, GraphMyHealth having experience in serving HCG, Mahatma Gandhi Cancer, Manipal Hospitals, Sevenhills, and Gleneagles Global Hospitals. 

Sharing an opinion, GraphMyHealth’s Vinayak says that small hospitals that work on tight margins have limited human resources who have to multi-task. They need to be more sure footed in their responses to changing market conditions. A good digital infrastructure and software should empower them to be pro-active and also align operations with management objectives. 

He says that the pandemic has forced hospitals to quickly adapt to telemedicine and also align with virtual apps to generate patient traffic and be accessible to existing patients remotely. In instances like this, Vinayak believes that a health aggregator portal like his GraphMyHealth would help hospitals in complementing medical infrastructure and network with other stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem like expert specialists for cross referrals and medical second opinions, home care services, health financing and insurance options etc.

Mobile-based interactions with patients have now become a comfort factor and hospitals with such service provisions are definitely preferred, be in urban or rural. The norm in the post-pandemic world will be making and confirming appointments through mobile applications, receiving personalized videos from doctors ensuring and getting home care enabled. 

Using next-generation messaging, voice, video, and chatbots, hospitals and other healthcare providers can establish a highly personalized connection with patients. Not only does this drive better customer experiences but real business value in terms of increased sales and more importantly an uptick in patient loyalty.

Patient Survey and data analytics – a must 

BestDoc’s Afsal Salu says that since the Indian healthcare sector is an amalgamation of multiple markets and business models and one-size-fits-all approach will not work beyond limited geographies or segments. Digital technologies have to be customized accordingly and startup support to enable the implementation is the need of the hour for hospitals and healthcare providers. 

Afsal, says, although it is heartening to see the significant focus that the healthcare sector is receiving today due to the current pandemic, there should be massive improvements in the infrastructure and efforts have to be undertaken immediately to rehaul the way healthcare investments are being looked at in our country. 

While technologies are put in place, it is also important for hospitals to realize the importance of patient surveys and decision making based on the data from the survey analysis. 

Afsal opines that the Quality of Outcome (QoC) can be measured via various surveys which are done post consultation or hospitalization based on the expected duration of seeing a visible impact on the effectiveness of the treatment.

At BestDoc, Afsal and his team have been able to innovate on identifying the channels for getting the best response rates for Patient Feedback using strong data analytics inbuilt into its communication products. 

In addition, the proper sentiment analysis of the keywords provided in the feedback (from both voice and text) aids in better segmentation and prioritisation of complaints using a ML algorithm and by using our SLA-based ticketing system, we are able to improve the resolution turnaround time (TAT) thereby helping providers build better customer satisfaction and retention rates. Afsal’s BestDoc is able to help providers identify where bottlenecks occur in the patient journey so that they can invest in additional infrastructure or resources or bring in standardization in hospital operations.

Patient relationship management platforms

Today’s digital health business is all about becoming smarter, deriving benefits from technologies like AI and ML. These technologies deliver advantages such as automating and bringing in efficiencies into routine processes apart from helping interpret significant patterns, trends, and outcomes by deep diving and better analysis of health data. 

They also help in understanding user needs and behavior, thus helping in putting together a more relevant service or offering. Afsal is in the opinion that clinical decision making software is an area where this is making a huge difference.

The world has gone through a sea change in terms of looking at human-to-human interactions post Covid and healthcare is also not an exception to this. When patients are scared to visit hospitals or doctors, hospitals need to rethink how to continue providing care without them having to visit their premises physically. 

That’s where online consultations and remote monitoring have been highly relevant which help both patients and hospitals stay in touch without having to delay access to care and continuously monitor care delivery. BestDoc has built a suite of contactless solutions for appointments, payments, check-in, etc., which allay their fears of contracting the infection while at a hospital. Care has to be delivered as a continuum and Afsal is certain that with the phygital (physical+digital) approach, hospitals can succeed.

Vinayak, on the other hand, opines that India being a vast country with a skewed distribution of its healthcare expertise predominantly in few major cities and lack of it in large pockets of rural landscape can vastly benefit from digital services in healthcare. 

A platform like GraphMyHealth, he says, will help to tap into expert specialists available in tier 1 cities and allow them to seamlessly offer their opinions to a wider population thus helping bridge the gap in Specialist Doctor availability. 

Contactless care delivery – a mandatory service option

Afsal believes that new-gen technologies such as Cloud and AI will enable better personalised delivery of care and aid clinicians and hospitals in validating their diagnoses faster and smarter. 

The adoption of such technologies will accelerate especially in areas where cost optimization and/or quality maximization can be achieved. The future looks exciting with a collaborative model of clinicians and technologists working together to improve human life expectancy and quality of outcomes becoming a reality in the near future.

Whereas, Vinayak is in the opinion that chatbots serve a great purpose in healthcare delivery. He says chatbots help in creating a more engaging experience and adds value to various functionalities. Vinayak’s GraphMyHealth’s digital platform, which is an AI powered chatbot, can help in scheduling appointments based on input of symptoms, asks for patient vitals, help upload case history, and also help in paying online for a convenient time slot for consultation. And there are many more such functionalities, which can be implemented using chatbots. 

Digital Health ID for a progressive & healthy India

This pandemic has made realize that the primary challenge of taking healthcare to rural India can be addressed only by digital healthcare initiatives and Vinayak is proud that through GraphMyHealth initiatives were taken to bridge the gap. An app like GraphMyHealth is designed to be user friendly and empower patients to sift through complexities of healthcare ecosystem and opt for the right service at the right price within the right time. Also, in a vast country like ours, it is evident that digitally enabled healthcare delivery will help overcome infrastructure and human resource challenges.

When all this is enabled, the Digital Health ID for every Indian citizen proposed by the Prime Minister on August 15th, 2020 also becomes possible. The main advantage of creating the ID is that it helps in framing a comprehensive health record. This brings a uniformity in Electronic Medical Record creation, which can be linked to all transactions. The records act as a vital repository of the individual’s and his/her family’s health. This, ultimately, is the stepping stone towards a holistic and modern health framework, placing India on par with developed countries.

Also, Afsal and Vinayak are among many thousand innovative startup entrepreneurs who are working on integrating several features that can cater to the rural citizens. They are coming up with multi-language capability within their application platforms to reach a larger demography. More importantly, these platforms – being more than a facilitator of appointments with expert specialists pan India through video consultations and other services – can bring in trust and transparency in healthcare delivery.

Afsal says that like him, startup entrepreneurs are constantly innovating across the spectrum of patient journey by considering patient to be at the center of every activity in a care delivery setting – be it in the vernacular language for patient communication; self-service models for improving patient privacy and freedom; integrating with multiple HISs and other technology solutions to provide a seamless patient experience; innovating with telemedicine and contactless solutions during the pandemic; and finally aligning to the future vision of a truly integrated healthcare ecosystem all falls under the bandwidth of the objectives proposed under the National Digital Health Mission

In conclusion, it is time for hospitals to get smarter, faster and better but for that the process needs to get rolling fast. Healthcare service providers need to be cognizant of the need for digital transformation. Health tech startups are also on a quest and are working tirelessly to ensure they can support caregivers to give the best experience for patients, ultimately making India a SwasthBharat.


Anusha Ashwin
Anusha Ashwin

When I started out as a trainee copy editor at a publishing house, least did I expect myself to be traveling along with the digital evolution of content. Ever since the digital model became a medium of providing content, my career kick-started. 
I consider my career to take a solid shape during the current phase, as I set shot to work in times of the digital era. Today, I am able to resonate with the demands of writing content tailored to meet the requirements of the new age consumer that is driven by SEO and SEM.
While with CyberMedia, I have handled content at premier magazines like BioSpectrum and Voice&Data – India’s foremost business magazines in the biotech & telecom verticals that have been instrumental in bridging the gaps in India’s life sciences and ICT domains respectively.
The blessing here is that, through the writings, I am on a constant self-discovery mode. I have found a passion, which is writing in focus on digital healthcare, communication-based tech startups, and health-tech entrepreneurs. Somewhere down me, there is this strong educational foundation in Microbiology and Biotechnology that had to play a part!
As India becomes more Atmanirbhar, I am destined to stay focussed on aligning my content contribution passion with Digital India plans, where I interact with numerous startup entrepreneurs and other organizations that are going to be part of the ambitious Make in India and Make for India programs.

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