India, with a doctor-patient ratio of 1:1700, is well below the World Health Organisation’s prescribed ratio of 1:1000. Although the Indian government aims to achieve this by 2024, it’s no small feat, and the deficient and fragmented medical infrastructure is only slowing down progress. The country has been fighting a losing battle against this infrastructure for a while now, which chiefly suffers from a scarcity of suitably equipped medical institutions.
One man who’s ready to rise to the challenge of transforming the Indian healthcare system is renowned business magnate Phaneesh Murthy. He believes that with the right integration of technology and artificial intelligence alongside human intelligence, it will be possible to build a system that could help supplement the work of doctors for precise patient treatment and overall better outcomes.
India’s healthcare system is ripe for tech innovation
“I think the Indian healthcare market is extremely fragmented from a provider perspective. And in fact, it’s quite fragmented from all providers of all kinds of products and services,” Murthy said in a recent interview, highlighting the fact that there are no national hospital chains, labs, diagnostics providers, and pharmacies. “And because of this, I would say that it is… in the ripe stage to do certain amounts of upgradation… by way of technology upliftment.”
But the fragmented and disorganised nature of the market has prevented the right level of investments to bring Indian healthcare up to a sufficient level, Murthy argues, “which in my mind is what I would consider… a barely minimum acceptable level.”
The solution, Murthy says, is technology. “Technology has been a game changer in many industries, and I believe that it’ll continue to be a game changer even in the healthcare industry.”
A patient-controlled electronic health record
According to Phaneesh Murthy, the starting point for improving the quality of healthcare in India will be to build a first-of-its-kind consumer-controlled health record, something which Murthy says has not yet been achieved anywhere in the world.
“One of the challenges in India is that, as any doctor will tell you, it’s very difficult to achieve a correct diagnosis without understanding a patient’s medical history. You can go to a doctor and tell them your symptoms but if he doesn’t have your medical history then they’ll just treat those symptoms as an isolated incident.” This lack of consumer access to health information is particularly problematic in India because primary care physicians don’t exist there.
To make this patient-controlled electronic health record a reality, Phaneesh Murthy has a three-step plan.
The first step, he says, will be the distribution of a free and highly secure health vault for every citizen in India. “We are allowing him or her to maintain records for up to six people in their family so they can maintain the records for their parents, for their children, and for themselves.” This, Murthy says, was the objective through his company, P M Health & Life Care Pvt Ltd. Patient vaults are available on the cloud, making it easy for patients to share their medical information with health providers.
Second, Phaneesh Murthy wants to make it easy for those with chronic illnesses to connect with others who are facing the same health problems and challenges. “This is far more important for their mental well-being than any medication that you can provide. If somebody’s suffering from pancreatic cancer, for example… how’s the family dealing with it? How is the patient? My goal is to try and see if we can create support groups for these people.”
Third, Murthy wants to utilise the power of the vast amount of health data available to inform healthcare policy and strategy. “Because of the amount of data that we will collect, we can run it through analytics and provide detailed analysis for certain ailments and illnesses. I can turn around in Delhi, for example, and say that incidences of this disease is dramatically higher per thousand than any other place in India.” This, Murthy says, will help to inform long-term strategies for improving things like air quality and water pollution.
Driving improvements in care quality
Phaneesh Murthy empathises that the goal of P M Health & Life Care Pvt Ltd. and initiatives and mechanisms such as the patient-controlled health record is to improve the quality of health and care in India. “Clearly, that [the health record] is just one element of this whole thing.”
In the long term, Murthy hopes that patients will be able to access a better quality of care more quickly and efficiently by having seamless access to a wide variety of healthcare products and services through a centralised healthcare exchange. “That’s really what our long-term goal is,” he explains.
Murthy, who made a name for himself leading the way in major tech firms like Infosys and iGATE, ultimately hopes that in the near future, a total transformation of India’s healthcare system will lead to the proliferation of new methods for delivery and achieving positive health outcomes that are already benefiting other parts of the world, such as telemedicine. “I think it just seems to be ripe… for the health sector to embrace newer methods of delivery.”