The pandemic subjected healthcare systems around the world to an unprecedented, intense pressure test. It had a disastrous impact on the Indian healthcare system which crumbled as a result of undue pressure during the pandemic. Thousands of lives were lost in nearly every nation, and India is no exception. This isn’t to say that India’s healthcare system is completely underdeveloped.
In the Economic Survey of 2022, India’s public expenditure on healthcare stood at 2.1% of the total GDP in year 2021-22. The country has made significant strides in healthcare and also offers some of the best care services, making patients from across the world seek medical care here. In 2020, India’s medical tourism market was valued at a colossal US$ 2.89 billion. However, India’s hinterlands paint a different picture, shedding light on the urgent need to build a robust healthcare ecosystem.
The penetration of healthcare in rural India and the 3 As
Healthcare is a fundamental right for everyone and must be available even in remote areas. The Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, once said, “India’s soul lies in its villages,” rightly so. A significant chunk of India’s total population lives in rural parts of the country.
However, the penetration of healthcare remains low, with a very small part of the population having access to primary health centres. There is a glaring gap in the three A’s- Awareness, Accessibility and Affordability. Focusing on improving these aspects will go a long way in bringing quality primary and secondary healthcare facilities to rural India. But how?
Innovative, tech-centric solutions and a dedicated workforce
Inadequate access coupled with unaffordable healthcare is the primary reason for the growing number of ailments and people’s inability to get treated. In the recent years, technology has taken the centre stage, especially with the pandemic forcing businesses to adapt to survive, and the healthcare industry is no exception. A digital-first approach, Government’s investment in tech infrastructure and the adoption of technologies like AI, ML, Blockchain, IoT, RPA, and Data Analytics in healthcare will work wonders for healthcare in India.
But before that, it’s essential to educate the rural population about these technologies and developments. Services like telemedicine and e-healthcare are rapidly gaining ground. With internet proliferation increasing substantially, introducing these services to rural India would be a game-changer for the healthcare system, allowing it to leapfrog to reach global standards.
Besides this, having a dedicated, skilled workforce is crucial. While India doesn’t have a shortage of trained doctors, the rural to urban migration has resulted in a lack of healthcare professionals in the hinterlands. Although automation will enable healthcare in rural India to progress immensely, the kind of care and treatment a skilled human workforce can offer is unmatched. When rural hospitals and healthcare centres are manned by competent medical staff who are well-qualified, the quality and accessibility of healthcare will surely see a surge.
Startups: A blessing in disguise
India is home to the world’s 3rd largest startup ecosystem and the number of startups in the healthcare sector has been growing steadily. They have been leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the best possible medical care reaches India’s remote areas. Leveraging cutting-edge technologies and employing highly skilled and qualified professionals, healthcare/health-tech startups in the country are facilitating a vast reach for quality and affordable healthcare across the country. They are being fuelled further by investors who see a goldmine of potential in the industry.
According to data, Indian health-tech startups raised a record US$ 1.9 billion in 2021 from VCs, making it the 4th highest in terms of fundraising, just behind the US, China and the UK. It’s safe to say that not only are startups going the extra mile to bolster healthcare in India’s hinterlands, but they are also generating several employment opportunities.
According to the WHO, the ideal doctor-patient ratio should be 1:1000, and although we’re still a long way from reaching this number, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the healthcare system in India. With new-age tech, low-cost, and scalable solutions, healthcare is becoming more accessible and affordable in rural parts of India. If this momentum of growth continues, we might just reach the WHO-specified ratio fulfilling the Government’s aim to achieve this by 2024.