2 ENGAGE. COLLABORATE. CHANGE. : Emerging trends in healthcare sector in India: Meena Ganesh, Founder and CEO- Portea Medical

Health is a fundamental human right and is a pre-requisite for any further human, social or economic development. It is a causative factor that impacts a nation’s aggregate economic growth. With the COVID-19 outbreak, there is no denying the fact that human health is one of the most critical areas and needs government’s attention. Though currently, healthcare is the focal point for everyone, getting undivided attention of both central and state governments, the same wasn’t true 3 months back. Healthcare allocation in Union Budget 2020 stood at 1.15% of the GDP, though it is envisaged that the allocation will rise to 2.5% by 2025. These times are making the reality hit us hard, that though innovative means like isolation wards in trains have been adopted to fight COVID-19, India has not been able to do sufficient in public health infrastructure, across vast stretches of the country.

India’s doctor-patient ratio is 1:1,445, lower than WHO’s prescribed norm of 1 doctor for 1,000 people

COVID-19 outbreak has forced everyone to rethink and reimagine existing realities, to something which will be more in line with social distancing and finding solutions to problems as locally as possible. When it comes to hospitals and treatments (non-COVID), in order to prevent hospital-acquired infections, technologies like tele-consulting are becoming reality. The usual queues at clinics and hospitals may have disappeared, but the helplines run by government, hospitals and social sector organisations are buzzing. On March 25, the health ministry and NITI Aayog, jointly announced guidelines for medical practitioners to ramp up telemedicine services in the fight against COVID-19. Under the new norms, registered medical practitioners can use all channels of communication, including voice, video, and text, for diagnosis. That means even WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or mobile health apps can facilitate consultation.

Tele-consulting is becoming the new normal

Portea Medical is a leading home healthcare pioneer and provider of in-home medical care and tele-consultation in India. Since 2013, it has been providing a continuum of care at home, for patients with chronic diseases, the elderly and those that are coming out of hospitalization like new born baby & mother care. It helps with setting up home ICUs, rehabilitation, palliative care and end of life care. It also offers complete solutions for people with diabetes, COPD, cancer, stroke etc. It employs nearly 4,000 people across 20 cities and delivers 150,000 home visits every month. It brings medical care into patients’ homes and aims to make primary healthcare not only more accessible, but also more affordable and accountable to the patients’ needs.

Elderly at-home nursing care by Portea Medical

Since COVID-19 outbreak, Portea, given its years of experience in patient-centric, out of hospital care, has been providing its existing services at a war footing and started a helpline dedicated to COVID-19 related queries. Portea’s nurses and caregivers are mostly attending post-surgical cases since patients are avoiding going to hospitals. The staff visiting the patients during these times, are provided with standard PPE kits including facemasks, gloves and an apron. Portea saw a 60 percent spike in tele-consulting ever since the Covid-19 crisis broke out. In March, the company also launched Cobot-19, an information and awareness chatbot, which has already notched up over 16 lakh users.

Meena Ganesh co-founded Portea Medical in 2013. In the world of startups, Meena Ganesh is a name that carries considerable heft. After spending decades in large technology companies and successfully launching online tutoring company TutorVista, which she co-founded with her husband K Ganesh, Meena Ganesh due to her personal journey with her parents’ elderly care, wanted to address the gaps in healthcare sector in India, through her health-tech start-up Portea Medical. The couple had also made early bets in successful e-commerce platforms such as BigBasket, FreshMenu and BlueStone to mention a few.

Meena Ganesh- MD/CEO, Portea Medical

Discussing the challenges in healthcare in India, Meena believes that India struggles with the basics of access, cost and quality of healthcare. While the urban centres have seen improvement over the years, the smaller towns and rural areas still struggle to get timely access. This is driven by the paucity of infrastructure and skilled medical professionals. The beds to people ratio in India is 0.9, which is one of the lowest in the world, the average being 2.9.

The other challenge is that nearly 70% of medical expenditures that people incur are self-funded. This means that insurance/government schemes cover only 30% of health expenditure. One of the key reasons for families to face extreme financial crisis is due to health challenges faced by any member in the family. Showing a stark contrast, however, at the top end, India has some of the best hospitals, with excellent capabilities, and attracts a large number of medical tourists.

In the past decade however, the solutions that have emerged in India have a wide range. There is better access to people through new trends like remote consultation, E-pharmacy and increased information and social networking allowing the ability to search for doctors/surgeries. There have been convenience based technological advancements in diagnosis like point of care devices, gene related diagnosis, AI/ML based diagnosis and market players having very low cost diagnosis, helping with rural outreach. The treatment aspect of healthcare has also seen rapid development through trends like at home treatment, high end equipment led treatments and ongoing care for chronic diseases using technology. Access to healthcare financing has also seen an upsurge through government schemes like Ayushman Bharat, crowdsourcing charitable funds and Medical loans and financing.

Meena believes that in order to ensure that every citizen of India can access quality healthcare, interventions are needed at the government level. The government not only needs to increase the outlay for healthcare in the budget, but also see how to work more closely with the private providers. Government can be the payer and need not be the provider as well.

Elaborating upon the new trends in the next 10 years that hold promise, Meena states that technology will create a big impact in the years to come, in all the above categories mentioned above. Longevity will lead to new challenges, the need to manage healthcare of super-senior citizens to an age of 100+ is starting to become a reality, needing solutions that are customised to their needs. This combined with the fact that there will fewer children per family and more distributed families, means that remote management of health and a connected ecosystem offering will be essential. Chronic diseases are being diagnosed earlier and need self-management with intervention from the medical system at appropriate points, which will give rise to a number of new opportunities.

Closing with a message for the young healthcare innovators, Meena posits that India has many opportunities for innovators to focus on, across various aspects of healthcare. If innovators can partner with supportive state governments, they can create scalable solutions with technology.

In the coming times, innovation and technology in healthcare are the only way forward

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