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Virtual health: Delivering care through technology

8 minutes, 52 seconds read

Virtual Care, Telehealth, Telemedicine, etc. are terms used very synonymously. Indeed they are interrelated, however, Virtual Care is a broader term in which healthcare providers use digital tools to communicate and deliver care to their patients. Telehealth and Telemedicine are a part of Virtual Care where doctors deliver care to their patients, remotely via phone, video, or instant messaging. Virtual health includes care delivery beyond video consultation where hospitals provide services using technology such as wearables for remote monitoring, instruments for post-op care and second opinions, e-pharma services, and medical information, etc. 

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic gave an impetus to Virtual Care, but even in the Pre-COVID time, the Healthcare sector was slowly gearing up for this next wave in care delivery. What COVID-19 did was, help patients get acclimatized to the digital health tools and services. 

What does Virtual Health help with?

The pandemic has brought the burning issues of the healthcare sector to center stage. Patient experience and access to healthcare services are key differentiators for people while choosing a healthcare provider. Let’s take a look at some of these issues addressed by technology in the healthcare sector-

The increasing number of patients

Apart from the pandemic, there’s already been a rise in the number of patients due to drastic changes in lifestyle and food habits, an increase in pollution levels, increase in new types of viruses, etc. This has caused undue stress on healthcare institutions and workers and has led to the deterioration of the quality of patient care. Virtual Health technology such as mHealth apps, EHR (Electronic Health Record), video conferencing, etc. has helped reduce the pressure on hospitals.

Difficulty in traveling for old patients

The pace of life is increasing at a rapid rate. It is getting insanely difficult for the elder population to navigate through the traffic and commute long distances for a check-up. Many times, they have to depend on their family members to take them to hospitals. Moreover, they are at risk of exposure to viruses in hospitals and clinics. Now that they have had the experience of virtual consultations, they prefer care delivery at home rather than going to hospitals.

Chronic Diseases treatment

The number of people above the age of 45 face health issues. Some patients are suffering from chronic diseases regardless of age. Regular monitoring of their vitals is very important. Moreover people now prefer Virtual healthcare services which are easily accessible and save a lot of time, effort, and money. Now that people have found these services effective, they will opt for online consults rather than frequent in-person visits. 

Post-op Care

The duration of post-operative care is quite long and tedious. If given a choice, people will lean towards wearables which will help keep doctors posted on the status of the treatment. Many times, the cost of post-op care is more than the actual treatment and sometimes is not covered under insurance. Virtual care-delivery services will help reduce the financial burden of people going through these treatments.

Follow-ups/Second opinion  

Some health conditions need multiple follow-ups and second opinions to figure out the right approach to treat the issue. It is much easier for patients to do follow-up consults virtually rather than going through the tedious process of appointment booking, commuting, and waiting for their turn. It helps reduce the queue outside the doctor’s office as well. Some health issues need a second opinion, sometimes both by patients and doctors. Virtual Healthcare technologies make it possible for them to take second opinions from doctors all over the world. With electronic records and image sharing, doctors can diagnose the problem better.

What does Virtual Health include?

Virtual Health can be broadly divided into below applications-

mHealth Applications

mHealth applications have widespread use. From symptom checkers to appointment booking, from fitness trackers to uploading medical records, from video conferencing features to chatbot integrations, mHealth apps are on a rise mainly because of easy accessibility for the tech-savvy customers. According to a study by NCBI, among the 22 selected mHealth apps operating in India, Practo, mfine, DocsApp, 1mg, Netmeds, Lybrate, MediBuddy, and Medlife were found to be the eight most popular ones with over a million downloads and on average four-plus user rating out of five. All the above apps are mainly being used for online consults. This just goes about showing that people prefer having homecare services instead of stepping out. 

E-Triage Tools

The rising number of patients with different stages of COVID symptoms was a task to deal with. E-triage software here enables hospitals to triage patients into different sections when there’s an overload of patients at a particular time. Now, in the case of home care, e-triage tools help patients to access the gravity of their health condition and notify the healthcare provider accordingly. Such tools help reduce A&E waiting time and improve NHS performance. Many companies are building healthcare software integrating the E-triage module within EHR, telemedicine, clinical decision making, billing, etc. In India, Persistent Systems’ cutting edge platform has a Nurse Triage system that enables nurses to see the queue of patients and triage via phone calls. Once the calls are done, a triage report is generated and sent to care providers. Many leading doctors feel that AI in image triage will see a boost in near future.

Remote Patient Monitoring 

There are multiple benefits such as reduced post-op expenditure, time wastage, less exposure to other diseases, etc. The global remote patient monitoring devices market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 7.1% during the forecast period (2019–2027) according to Coherent Market Insights. Some of the top players in this space are Biotronik, Boston Scientific Corporation, CAS Medical Systems, CONTEC MEDICAL, Dragerwerk, GE Healthcare, Guangdong Biolight Meditech, Medtronic, Mindray Medical, Nihon Kohden, Philips Healthcare, Spacelabs Healthcare, Abbott. Companies such as GE Healthcare and Philips Healthcare have done a great job with building remote patient monitoring systems within the hospital premises as well as homecare for COVID patients. The main goal was to reduce the exposure of healthcare workers to at-risk patients. 

Synchronous and Asynchronous Telehealth

Synchronous telehealth, in other words, Telemedicine is where there is a live conversation between the patient and the doctor. Asynchronous telehealth involves the exchange of recorded data e.g. images, video, medical reports, pathology reports between patients and doctors, at times between doctors as well. Similar to mHealth space, companies like Practo, 1mg, Lybrate, Medlife, and Portea Medical in India are some of the top players in telehealth and telemedicine. Lybrate’s USP lies in CMS (Clinical Management System) which helps doctors with tedious tasks of managing patients and providing better care. Meanwhile, Portea Medical’s home consults and pharma delivery have more relevance with the audience as it combines technology with a touch of personalization. 

Digital Therapeutics

Digital Therapeutics delivers evidence-based therapies with the help of software which can be used both as a preventive measure as well as treatment application. The effectiveness of the medication and lifestyle changes on patients are monitored by leveraging technology. In India, major non-communicable diseases that account for 62% of the total mortality rate are CVD, diabetes, respiratory conditions, and cancer. Prominent global players in this space include Noom (US), Livongo Health (US), Omada Health (US), WellDoc (US), Pear Therapeutics (US), Proteus Digital Health (US), Propeller Health (US), Akili Interactive Labs (US), Better Therapeutics (US), etc. Omada Health is the pioneer in the DTx (Digital Therapeutics) that focused primarily on diabetes and pre-diabetes but now is branching out in the mental health space as well. In India, Altran (a part of Capgemini) is into building personalized DTx applications for clients. Whereas a start-up called Wellthy Therapeutics has ready solutions catering to multiple diseases.

Future of Virtual Health

Undoubtedly, there has been a massive increase in the adoption of Virtual Health technologies as people have gotten accustomed to the ease of certain services at home. In the coming future, mHealth apps, remote patient monitoring, and Digital therapeutics see a surge in demand from the customers. According to a study by Markets and Markets, “The global digital therapeutics market is projected to reach USD 6.9 billion by 2025 from USD 2.1 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 26.7% during the forecast period (2020–2025).” A study by Fortune Business Insights, “The global mHealth market size is projected to reach USD 293.29 billion by 2026, exhibiting a CAGR of 29.1% during the forecast period.” A Research and Markets report says, “The remote patient monitoring market is expected to reach US$31.326 billion by the end of 2023.” Apart from the above, development in digital infrastructure such as virtual health stations where doctors can provide consultations globally, mobile ICUs, MRIs, X-rays, ultrasound equipment, the establishment of rural virtual care units reaching the remote areas of the country are some of the trends which will gain momentum. The focus would always lie upon the personalization of the virtual care experience for patients driven by data exchange and interoperability. 

Indeed, there are certain challenges to the implementation of these technologies, lack of infrastructure, and digital literacy amongst elders and lower strata of society. Many healthcare institutions still have inhibitions while investing in digital technologies fearing rejection from the customers. It will be crucial for care providers to choose the right partner for implementing these technologies and create awareness amongst people to adopt them.  

In a Nutshell

The success of virtual care relies on how well the digital experience is designed for the patient. “By 2025, as many as 95 percent of all customer interactions will be through channels supported by artificial intelligence (AI) technology” – Microsoft. The use of algorithms and AI for personalizing these experiences will be the key. 

Find out more about unchartered territories in ‘Blue Ocean’ of Digital Health. Join our webinar hosted by Parag Sharma (CEO, Mantra Labs) as he shares his insights on untapped opportunities using digital self-care tools within behavioral healthcare & emotional wellness.

Save your spot! 

Further Readings:

  1. Reimagining Medical Diagnosis with Chatbots
  2. HealthTech 101: How are Healthcare Technologies Reinventing Patient Care
  3. What will be the state of the healthcare industry post pandemic?
  4. Healthcare Chatbots: Innovative, Efficient, and Low-cost Care
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How Mobile Micro-Health Insurance can unlock ‘Digital for Bharat’?

By :
4 minutes, 8 seconds read

Mobile-enabled micro-health insurance is escalating at a good rate with advancement of digital technology. It has the potential to deliver quality healthcare services to people by improving accessibility and keeping people well-informed about health issues, thus reducing out-of-pocket expenses. Consumers are prioritizing health above other needs as the rise of digital services in India has enabled catering to the at-home population In India.

Keeping Customers Engaged using digital health tools

Practice of healthcare through mobile can be made interactive by integrating services that can cater to customer needs:

  1. Using chatbots to help customers settle health related queries and diagnosis through simple question-answer sessions. Health emergencies can be solved any time with chatbots due its 24/7 availability. Max Life insurance has made it easier for customers to avail customer service through max life assistant Mili that is integrated in Whatsapp.
  2. Use of health apps helps customers to receive personalized service. Health apps provide virtual care, health tips, and keep track of health status, and locate nearby hospitals. TATA AIA life insurance company partnered with Practo to gain access to a digital health platform through which customers can book appointments, order medicines and consult doctors online.
  3. Integration of mobile apps with fitness trackers, smart health watches helps customers to receive daily updates on their health & well-being. Max Bupa Health insurance partnered with GOQii to track customers’ health and offer discounts to those who achieved healthier goals and lifestyles. 
  4. Use of mobile payments such as mobile wallets, NFC can help customers pay premiums with just a few taps. Reliance general insurance partnered with Paytm and launched “COVID-19 benefit insurance policy” that covers quarantine and health treatment expenses for COVID-19 patients.

More than 2.4 billion people worldwide live on US$2 or less per day. Most low-income families will see their savings be completely wiped out owing to higher out-of pocket healthcare expenses and are likely to be pushed further into poverty. Below are a few mobile micro-health insurance products that are helping such low-income families cover health risks with minimal costs at difficult times.

Innovative New products in micro-health insurance:

  1. BIMA Health- following a mobile insurance model and having partnered with several mobile operators, BIMA covers short-term health events for low-income families by providing tele-doctor services, free health programmes giving health tips through SMS, appointment booking services wherein the micro-payments are deducted from monthly phone bills.  
  2. Pona na Tigo Bima- MicroEnsure partnered with Tigo, Bima and Golden Crescent and developed a health insurance product “Get Well with Tigo Insurance” that provides life and hospitalization insurance covering 30 nights in a hospital and uses mobile money for claim settlements. 
  3. Y’ello Health- this micro-insurance service established by MTN Nigeria provides health insurance cover to Nigerians where they can pay and have access to medical treatments through mobile phones. People have access to around 6000 hospitals across the country that are registered in NHIS.
  4. Kilimo Salama: operated by safaricom, Syngenta foundation and UAP insurance, the insurance scheme allows Kenyan farmers to insure farm equipment and inputs against drought and heavy rain. It offers “pay as you plant” insurance by syncing mobile payments and solar powered weather stations. A farmer pays 5% extra for farm inputs for climate coverage. When a weather station reports extreme climate change, the farmer registered with that station automatically receives the amount in mobile. 

MNOs have been the major drivers to enhance the microinsurance industry. Mobile being the dominant technology, can be used to structure niche insurance products and serve to educate people on various health issues. Mobile micro-health insurance can serve as a protective blanket against health emergencies as mobile can bridge the gap between the insurers and low-income families, be it mobile policy information, claims filing, renewals, query and claim payments. An adequate balance can be achieved between affordability and accessibility by partnerships with MNOs to deliver real value to the customers.

Untapped Opportunity & Drivers of Micro-health Insurance

In developing countries, the estimated volume for microinsurance is between 1.5 and 3 billion policies. These policies typically account for demand in health, agriculture, property, and disaster cover. At present, only 5% of this market is currently tapped and is being driven by large commercial insurers. To expand the market, commercial insurers should partner with innovative startups, NGOs and other facilitators. As mobile penetration deepens, it will also open more doors for low income groups to have access to better quality financial savings products. For instance, WhatsApp which has a total of 400M users in India, 15 million of which are small businesses, is targeting financial services such as insurance, micro-credit & pension for the rural/informal sector through ‘WhatsApp Pay’. The ‘Digital for Bharat’ challenge needs simplicity in the products & services being designed for the rural mass and finding innovative distribution channels to truly establish the roots of this market.

To know about how HealthTech will bring hospitals to a customer’s doorstep, join us to attend our webinar on Digital Health Beyond COVID-19Register here!

Further Readings:

  1. Reimagining Medical Diagnosis with Chatbots
  2. HealthTech 101: How are Healthcare Technologies Reinventing Patient Care
  3. What will be the state of the healthcare industry post pandemic?
  4. Healthcare Chatbots: Innovative, Efficient, and Low-cost Care
  5. Does Microinsurance work for India’s poor?
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