Healthcare is reliably pegged as a $372 billion industry in India, with patient care naturally occupying the most significant share. Truthfully, Urban Company and its peers in tech services are not majorly invested in this sector yet, but there is a compelling case for their imminent success, way beyond medicine delivery.
As a sector that thrives on scientific upgrades, investment in technology is definitely the topmost priority for healthcare. If one were to focus on hospitals and diagnostic services, most if not all of this money is spent on equipment and infrastructure, to aid both identification and treatment. Which is exactly why robotic surgeries, precision oncology, and minimally invasive cardiac corrections, amongst many other upgrades, have made a such rapid impact on both the volume and value of living in recent years.
However, when it comes to customer-centric 'experience-enhancing' technology, healthcare is alarmingly stagnant as if a forgotten chapter in an otherwise impressive evolution. Teleconsulting is still fairly primitive (1.0 video calls), CRM opportunities for building lifetime value alarmingly outdated, digitized treatment records largely theoretical, and the imposing physicality of hospital visits unchanged for decades. All of this in a dramatically developing customer universe where the norms of equitable access have been scalably revolutionized, from Uber to Apple to Amazon and indeed, Netflix.
So, here's my envisioned future, actually emerging present, for patient care in India valid across the population and budgetary pockets, propelled by comfortable technology and nudged by covid imperatives. Homes will become the new hub for base healthcare with the smartphone becoming the connectivity tool to doctors, whether generalists or specialists. The conversations will be facilitated by roaming paramedics who will perform the basic physical examinations and pathology reporting, with samples of the latter collected at the residence.
Most believably, even the 'core' consultants (physicians, pediatricians, cardiologists, physiotherapists) can be tapped for home visits through the Urban Company like app, in a suitably engineered open source universe. Structured home access can optimize the revenue potential for doctors and they can be the conduit pool for suitable hospitals, essentially a high-tech rehash of traditional patient-provider equilibrium.
Perhaps, there is a major lesson from the ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) initiative which is making buyer-seller interactions platform agnostic, with easy-to-use fulfillment agents. Imagine if a patient wants a pediatric doctor in Gurgaon, eligible providers across hospital chains or private clinics can be visible and the customer is free to choose based on availability and assessment, truly liberated from the imposition of hospital brands and the perils of personal visits.
While pathology is already largely home-based (here too phlebotomists can unite), radiology can soon become home accessible, with mobile equipment vehicles bearing CT, EEG, and even, potentially, portable MRI setups right to the patient's doorstep. Specialists can be accessible through video calls aided by physical attendants and further actions can be dictated by preliminary or routine findings.
Ambulances too, unified via apps which operate on Uber principles, can be summoned urgently, and they will ideally be non-state service providers. The know-how for digital medical records exists already and it simply requires committed scalability and an easily accessible sharing mechanism which is kindergarten tablestakes for an entity like Google.
What I am plainly perceiving is an imminent Balkanization of patient care hegemonies, selfishly curated by the dominant hospitals and influential practitioners. Technology teaches us the socio-cultural advantages of disintermediation and open sourcing, for which the opportunity is ripe in internet-enriched India, with more rural users than urban. The hospital will remain the hub for treatment while diagnostic centres will evolve to being hybrid entities (lab cum service), with a culture of effective outcomes overpowering the compulsive physicality of this industry.
The actors in this space ( doctors, paramedics, nurses, ambulances, and others) will increasingly embrace open source avatars, while still being attached to institutions, maybe an extension of legalised moonlighting increasingly practised by the IT sector. Diagnosis will reach closer home, portable radiology following pathology, while the rapid spread of broadband will facilitate meaningful consultations, aided by on-the-spot paramedics. As proven by eCommerce, this model can work in non-metro India as well, as the base is the unification of user-friendly technology and competent service providers, whether man or machine, with ONDC, hopefully coming to party in a meaningful manner.
As articulated above, the change is about customer-centric technology and not advances in medical science, as the latter is ably reflected by protocols, equipment, pricing, and skillsets. Which is exactly why it will take somebody like Urban Company to make this work, folks who have proven success and competencies in home-based service solutions, facilitated by the customer and provider-friendly apps.
Also, most valuably, we need players who are liberated from the conventional hubris of private healthcare, which is still wedded to a manufacturer's mindset and the monopolistic obsession for profitability. In Government health services as well, a potent version of this new age thinking can easily work, as the physical-virtual relationship has been smoothly applied in multiple streams of e-governance.
It will be appropriate to conclude, or rather commence, with a faint reference to the metaverse, the '3D' internet with enormous virtual possibilities, especially in presence-enhanced digital communication invaluable for healthcare. In any case, the customer-centricity revolution is right around the corner and it urgently needs a willing visionary, or two, to help build a healthier society right out of the home.