Friday, 8 January, 2010

Mobile Healthcare scenerio in India

India is the second most populous country of the world and has changing socio-political-demographic and morbidity patterns that have been drawing global attention in recent years. Despite several growth-orientated policies adopted by the government, the widening economic, regional and gender disparities are posing challenges for the health sector. About 75% of health infrastructure, medical manpower and other health resources are concentrated in urban areas where only 27% of the Indian population live.

The new buzz is Mobile Health; in simple words it means access to valuable information and consultation for preventive and post treatment advice targeted at doctors and end users. The idea is to use telecom as a backbone tool to leverage the current brick and mortar model of Healthcare delivery across the country.

The scope of Telecom as well as technology to disseminate valuable and personalised Health information is now evolving. Better practices are expected to rely heavily on telecommunications services. Most of the high costs inherent in the current system are related to the proximity of the patient and provider, as well as to the archaic administrative systems used to manage records and exchange information. Telecommunications can bridge these proximity gaps as well as provide a normalized set of baseline data that can remain secure and yet be shared among healthcare workers.

While a major step was taken by Dr. Brilliant to eradicate even the smallest remnants of Small Pox from India, digital technology was used to predict and prevent this infectious disease depending on information that fed in from the grassroots. Teledensity in India is increasing at a phenominal rate and Soon Mobile handsets will emerge as a Mass targeted Medium, and hence various Health awareness and Information programs can be penetrated amongst the end users using the same.
Today, 90% of operator’s revenues come from Voice and Rentals. Of the balance 10%, about half comes from Person-to-Person (P2P) SMS. So, VAS accounts for only about 5% of revenue. Operators have primarily focused on voice. I see a new breed of companies emerging who will create direct-to-consumer services and focus exclusively on VAS. They will have multiple revenue streams - not just from subscribers, but also from advertisers and businesses. 3G will be a big enabler for richer services, and can actually drive higher ARPUs (Average Revenue Per User). Consumer will sit at the locus, and Healthcare services will become more consumer oriented, consumer driven and on demand.
The major need gap which can be addressed to, using Mobile based Information is Preventive Healthcare i.e. measures taken to identify and minimize risk factors for disease, improve the course of an existing disease and screening for early detection of disease. It is been said that by the end of 2009 3/4th of the Indian Population shall be covered by a mobile network, many of these new subscribers are from Rural India and hence the next possible market for derived revenue and penetration for Healthcare is the rural and semi urban population along with the urban saturated market which will possibly grow with VAS.An SMS on your mobile Phone is more personal and targeted, it forces you to take a moment to think and may be act.
The Consumer advantage scenario will take into account the seven major considerations of Cost, Quality & Relevance, Reach, Real time, on demand and Convenience.

Nominal subscription fee of say Rs. 30/month for Healthcare information and Tips on mobiles will be perceived as far more relevant when compared to spending the same on ring tones, Jokes or entertainment. The Challenge here lies in creating awareness as to how an early detection of disease will control your Health Insurance premium and lower your hospitalization costs. Also, a continuous follow up of an already detected disease using subscribed health information will reduce frequent doctor visits and in turn incurred cost.

The Quality of information dispensed should be from a reliable source, should be relevant and of local disposal. Partnership sources should include private and government participation using a strong and well branched out data collection network and a team of doctors.
People in rural areas usually have basic handsets, where literacy concerns are not paramount text messaging offer significant advantages in terms of convenience and flexibility. Information dispensed in local language with the ability to store and send data on ways to stay away from the possible ailments is the key.
As is the distribution and prevalence of certain ailments, so are the demand options, for e.g. Ulcerative Colitis is common in Punjab in north India, Cardiovascular diseases are more common in South India. Therefore, either data taken from the consumers can be utilized to develop an On Demand service or MOHFW or WHO Information base can be used to target risk factors in a particular community. An interesting publication in WHO Global Infobase indicates high prevalence of Multiple Coronary risk factors in Punjabi Bhatia community.
Convenience is probably the signature mega trend of the next era since the consumer desire for time saving plus the insistence on simplifying complexity coincides with technology developments able to deliver precisely the desired information in real time
. Early detection of a disease always pushes early response and management. The information provided should enable the End User take informed decisions as a part of Primary Healthcare Module. In this model, Consumer convenience and rights to access the information is the major gap, which needs to be bridged.

The whole process of Mobile Healthcare not only requires knowledge of applicable requirements but also a thoughtful combination of technology, laws, policies, Insurance, procedures, appropriate contract provisions and regulations.

Maximizing the mobile and technology benefits in the coming era will offer effective Healthcare Management at the commencement of such a venture and beyond.

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