Internet Redefines Traditional Doctor-Patient Relationship
23 Sep, 2016
There was a time when the internet was a mysterious place only meant for youngsters and the tech-savvy. The last decade or so, however, has been the game-changer. India’s love for the smartphone, armed with 24*7 internet connectivity, is clear as it races ahead to become the second largest market for smartphone users globally. This is not all. The industry is expected to witness exponential growth with a projected 650 million smartphone owners over the next four years, said an early 2015 study conducted by Cisco. If one were to look around, the intensity of this change would undoubtedly ring true – we order food, cabs, gifts, medical reports, movie tickets and everything fathomable – online. We are consulting search engines at the drop of a hat, getting information gleaned from the best sources and choosing to get products and services at our doorstep. The convenience of the worldwide web coupled with its ability to connect people across continents has redefined conventional relationships and the ease of discovery.
This widespread adoption of smartphones and the rise in internet connectivity have impacted all facets of life but one of the most significant changes can be felt in terms of medical care. People who were once relying on doctors that were tried and tested by other family members are now going online to find proficient medical practitioners who can best address their ailment. Even till two years back, 40 million people were checking online reviews before purchasing a product or service online with 57 million even carrying out brand-related searches to ensure that they were making the right choice. The phenomenon has only caught on like a forest fire in recent times.
Health care and the rise of the digital age are now actively laying down new ground rules for how patients discover, compare, choose and consult doctors across the globe. Even as we speak, patients are booking appointments online, interacting with doctors via video calls and reviewing medical institutions to make sure that they’re getting the best medical care at competitive prices. Everything right from the process of viewing lab test reports online to connecting with a subject expert who might be staying continents away is now possible. Ordering medicines, getting home trained medical attendants to finding healthcare equipment in the vicinity is a cakewalk with the entry of tech-enabled healthcare start-ups who are effectively addressing every possible pain point for the Indian patient and his/her family. The use of Big Data in accessing the risk of chronic diseases and prompting service providers like hospitals, insurance agents and the like to initiate preventive action is also not unheard of any more.
If one were to talk of medical tourism specially, the match with technology has been a phenomenal development. There is nothing new about Indian doctors’ high level of skill and competence but to be able to connect with them has so far been a tedious process for anyone who lives abroad. Enter online platforms that facilitate this two-way interaction and everything changes.
Another big motivation that draws hordes of people to India for treatments is the shocking difference in terms of the costs involved. For instance, a cardiac surgery in India begins from Rs. 1,00,000whereas in the USA, it might go up to 50-60 lakhs. Not to mention, there might be a long waiting period involved in developed nations as well. No wonder, medical tourists from the USA and even East African countries, countries from the Middle East and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are now looking at India for a host of treatments – IVF, dental procedures, cardiac care, orthopedic care, Ayurvedic remedies and cosmetic surgeries to name a few.
This growth story of the segment and India’s image as the ultimate destination for healthcare has been spurred by many factors that have worked in favour of the industry. However, there is still a long way to go to harness its full potential. The one big impediment that the sector faces till date is the lack of trust factor – patients and their families are still hesitant in having full faith in a doctor they’ve never met face-to-face before. The absence of documented medical records online that can make the process of tracking post and pre-treatment medical condition of the patient seamless is missing. In some cases, a proper handover where the patient’s treatment history is made available to the treating doctor also comes in the way of initiating future course of action – the good news is that this is slowly changing. Finally, it’s the fact that many doctors are still not comfortable using technology for everyday work. This needs to be addressed and medical practitioners need to be encouraged to make the switch faster.
If things are to propel in the right direction, start-ups need to focus their energies on leveraging technology better to be able to help those in need. The effort needs to be on developing breakthrough applications that can revolutionize the way healthcare is pursued not only in India but across the world.