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The tech-savvy road to health

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The tech-savvy road to health

Thursday, 23 January 2020 | Sushant Reddy

Technology has not been a disruptive force in senior healthcare but that story is set to change over the next six years, says Sushant Reddy

We have just celebrated our entry into a new decade. The defining theme of the first two decades of this century was the rise of technology start-ups and their transformative change in our lives. Just 10 years ago, none of us could have imagined the lifestyle changes created by internet-enabled platforms and aggregators like Uber, Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato, Hotstar or Netflix. However, there are some sectors where technology hasn’t had such a transformative effect, yet. One such is healthcare and more specifically, healthcare for senior citizens. What is senior healthcare? This in itself is a very generic term; in fact, the term is so generic that everything, from an Out Patient Department to in-hospital care to the pharmacy can be grouped into this category.

Broadly speaking, senior healthcare can be classified into four areas: Hospital care, preventive care, home care and healthy living.

Hospital care: This is what everyone easily relates to as traditional healthcare. Episodic events such as emergencies, illness, injury treatments at a hospital come under hospital care.

 Preventive care: All aspects of healthcare that are preventive in nature such as diagnostic tests, pharmacy, doctor consultations, disease management (diabetes, hypertension), health insurance and so on fall in the category of preventive care.

 Home care: Healthcare services delivered at home such as nursing, physiotherapy, home Intensive Care Unit (ICU), dialysis and chemo-therapy services, medical devices and so on come under this.

Healthy living: Services that enable a healthy lifestyle for seniors such as custom-designed senior homes, smart tracking devices, companionship services and so on come under this tag.

The fact remains that senior healthcare is a massive challenge. India is in the middle of a rapid demographic and cultural transition — senior citizens above 60 years are over a 100 million today and constitute eight  per cent of the total population. This figure is expected to grow to 350 million, an estimated 20 per cent of the total population by 2050, a dramatic rise in the older population, both in size and proportion.

 Another massive factor driving this transition is a mass migration, both domestic and international, of educated, urban youth that happened during the 80s, 90s and the first decade of the 21st century. The country recorded over 30 million international migrants and 139 million domestic migrants as of 2017.

These challenges have increased India’s senior healthcare burden exponentially and the problem is compounded by the fact that despite massive technological advances in this century, it has not yet created a disruptive impact in the senior healthcare industry. This is because of three main reasons, fragmented and localised service providers, low tech savviness of seniors and language barriers.

Fragmented and localised service providers: Traditionally senior healthcare services have been very human-intensive. The role of care provider was and still remains extremely critical and everything else was not a deal breaker.

 Low tech savviness of seniors: All things equal, technology adoption of millennials is much higher than that of senior citizens. While seniors are comfortable with popular apps like WhatsApp and YouTube, adoption of other technology in general has been less than spectacular.

 Language barriers: English is not a preferred conversational medium for most senior citizens and as most technology platforms are designed for urban, English-speaking customers, this becomes a major mental obstacle not only for senior citizens but also for care providers.

So, the big question is, how can technology transform senior healthcare? There are multiple areas where technology can become a real force-multiplier.

 Smart medical alert system: India does not have a reliable 911 emergency service that can be accessed by senior citizens. Having smart medical alert systems that can provide emergency support at the push of a button will be a great value addition for seniors.

 Doctor-on-call services: Senior citizens usually avoid visiting a doctor for minor health issues because of mobility and logistic issues. A “doctor-on-call” service where general physicians and specialist doctors can talk over a voice/video call will be a great value proposition for senior citizens.

 Internet of Things devices and smart tracking: Senior citizens have a higher risk of falls, rapid heart rate, breathlessness, low blood pressure and so on. Smart Internet of Things (IoT) devices that can track regular health vitals, detect abnormal patterns and alert care providers is another major opportunity in this space.

 Smart senior living homes: The concept of senior living was a social taboo until recently. With realty developers revisiting the concept of “senior living”, a lot of Indians are taking a fresh look at this concept.

 Intelligent voice platforms: Voice is a major breakthrough when it comes to senior citizens. Easy, intelligent voice-based platforms to order medicines, schedule doctor appointments or health check-ups will be a major opportunity in future.

 Technology has not been a disruptive force in senior healthcare but that story is set to change over the next five-six years. With rapid advances in voice-enabled platforms, artificial intelligence and IoT devices, start-ups are burning the midnight oil to come up with smart, easy-to-use technological solutions that create an impact in the senior healthcare industry. It is not a question of “if” anymore, it’s just the “when” that needs to be answered.

(The writer is CEO and founder of a leading insurance aggregating platform)

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