Opinion: Technology expands reach of healthcare

It’s fascinating to look ba­ck on the advancements in technology and see how far the world has come in the last two decades. At the same time, the manner in wh­ich technology has proliferated and come to beco­me an integral part of our da­i­ly lives has led to the diminishing of distances. Tech has made it possible for people in remote ar­e­as to access health and rel­a­t­ed servi­c­es as well as interact with do­ctors and caregi­vers, witho­­ut having to travel vast distances.

One of the recent trends is growing use of online medical consultations. Easy acc­e­ss to internet through sma­r­t­phones and internet-enab­led feature phones has empowered consumers. The advent of internet and massive flow of information it generated led to a revolution that be­gan with WebMD, a US  fi­rm, which began in 1996 as online publisher of news and information on health, gene­r­al well-being and medici­nes. Soon, many more such websites followed, offering a level of transparency ever se­en before. They were no lo­n­g­er bound to visiting a doctor at the slightest hint of an ailment. By simply going online and looking up the sympto­ms, they could self-medicate for common ailments. The re­levance of these me­dical po­rtals only increased over the years. With penetration of technology and internet, it became even easier to comm­unicate virtually with doct­ors and other healthcare professionals. Thus, the trend of online chat and call-based consultation began and it ga­i­ned with arrival of smartp­h­o­nes and mobile applicatio­ns. Replicating its first mo­v­er initiative, WebMD unveiled mobile app in 2008, weeks after the app store was launc­hed. This was followed by the emergence of a new segment called health-tech that hera­l­ded the arrival of an age wh­e­r­ein healthcare services like booking appointme­nts, cons­ulting doctors and buying me­­dicines were a matter of few taps on phone screens.

In India, nearly 70% net us­­ers access it on their mob­i­le phones. India has 300 mi­l­l­­i­on plus smartphone users and around 400 million inte­r­net users, with rate of di­g­ital penetration in the rural regions growing at 26% against 9% in urban areas. With  In­d­­ia’s steady progress towards digitisation, a healthc­a­­re revo­lution is  underway, dr­iven mostly by proliferation of digi­t­­al, net-enabled devi­ces.

As the significance of sm­a­rtphones grew – from a tec­h­nological marvel that sign­a­l­l­ed the age of mass digitisati­on, to an indispensable mea­ns of communication – the way we consumed so many di­fferent services, including he­­althcare, also changed. Te­r­ms like online doctor and e- med consultation coined in the beginning of pr­e­sent century have become truly relevant today. Healthcare mobile applications are driving greater convenience for cons­umers by enabling th­em to consult doctors online thro­u­gh chat, call or video. Also, armed with the capability to facilitate treatments and consultations through chat, new-age healthcare firms such as DocsApp are taking patient care to a whole new level.

Tele-health services such as chat have emerged as cost-effective alternatives to comp­lement traditional healthca­re services, proving particularly beneficial for people living in rural and remote areas. With online healthcare platforms like DocsApp, rural patients no longer have to travel hundreds of miles the neare­st centre to see a specialist. These digital platforms facilitate easy and efficient communication between patients and health specialists thro­u­gh mobile apps, providing doctor consultations on chat/ call to the patient. Tele consultation is also beneficial to healthcare workers in remote locations, as specialists can provide them with the right education and training, virtually. These kinds of consultations would have been dee­med to be impossibility just a little over a decade ago. But with high-speed mobile and broadband internet and apps, today a patient from Guwah­ati can reach a doctor in Bangalore within se­conds, proving that the implications of digitisation are truly massive in the realm of healthcare.

The role of mobile apps in the delivery of healthcare is especially noteworthy, which have become essential to improving accessibility for both patients, as well as healthcare professionals. Mobile apps have also enabled to people to manage their health easily and efficiently, not to mention that of their family.

(The writer is co-founder and CEO of DocsApp)