Why tech-enabled virtual hospitals are future of healthcare

WHO has issued repeated warnings that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over

Dr Dhruv JoshiUpdated: Monday, May 23, 2022, 02:04 PM IST
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Technology-enabled virtual hospitals can today connect to any hospital, irrespective of its size and location | Unsplash

The past few days have seen a rising number of COVID-19 cases in some cities like Delhi. At the time of writing, Delhi was recording nearly 1,500 new cases per day. This has caused some to question the possibility of a fourth wave of COVID and more importantly, the impact it could have on the health of our citizens.

Having seen 3 waves over the last 2 years, the government and the healthcare system has grown much more adept at dealing with COVID surges. In addition, with a large percentage of the vulnerable population vaccinated, we are today in a much better situation.

Surge in Omicron cases

Even the Omicron surge from a few months ago did not have the devastating impact of death, disability and an overwhelmed healthcare system that Delta wave wreaked upon India in 2021. This was perhaps a combination of better vaccination, an already immune population and inherent virus characteristics that led to a less fatal and more manageable Omicron surge. Armed with this knowledge, we have seen normal life resuming after two years. Students are returning to schools and colleges, and offices are reopening now.

Notwithstanding this, it is imperative we remain vigilant and prepared. The World Health Organization has issued repeated warnings that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and that everyone should follow the COVID protocol while out in public. In India, many states continue to mandate wearing masks even though certain restrictions were lifted in April. Section 144 was imposed in Noida in early May as the number of COVID cases continued to rise.

According to reports, the country saw a 41 percent increase in total COVID cases during the same time period.

The recent increase in cases has been attributed to the XE and other coronavirus variants. By not paying heed to these precautions, we leave ourselves vulnerable to another wave that could have unpredictable consequences. If there is anything we have learned over the last two years, it is that preparedness and building a robust healthcare delivery framework is essential to counter pandemics, which are inevitable. We also learned that the price of having inequitable healthcare can be catastrophic and that moving forward it is essential to create and utilize innovative solutions often enabled by technology.

Critical care, a big challenge

One of the big challenges we saw was in the delivery of critical care. It has become apparent that probably one of the major of functions of hospitals is going to be delivery of critical care. Every hospital serving its community, needs to have the ability to provide quality critical care to its community members. The current framework does not allow for this. Unfortunately, only a few hospitals have the expertise, training and process to provide quality critical care and these centres are very often inaccessible or unaffordable for a majority of the population.

In the face of this stark reality, the time has come to challenge the status quo and build innovative means of addressing this problem. Technology-enabled virtual hospitals can today connect to any hospital, irrespective of its size and location, empowering it to address the critical care needs of its community. This is the future of healthcare if we hope to make it equitable. We must use the opportunity that the pandemic has provided us to rapidly adopt such solutions for the benefit of critical patients everywhere, irrespective of COVID or subsequent surges.

State-of-the-art tech platforms

A virtual hospital combines the multidisciplinary expertise of doctors, nurses, and paramedical staff that can remotely use state-of-the-art technology platforms to oversee the care of patients located anywhere. For critically ill patients, it involves a combination of tele-ICU, virtual training, process improvements and real-time 24/7 proactive monitoring and collaborative management of patients, enabling them to access the quality care that they need and ensure the best outcomes possible.

According to the 2021 Global Health Security Index, "all countries remain critically unprepared for future epidemic and pandemic risks, including dangers potentially more catastrophic than COVID-19."

The GHS Index ranks countries in six categories: prevention, detection, and reporting, rapid response, health system, compliance with international norms, and risk environment. India ranks 66th out of 195 countries in the GHS index, with a score of 42.8, a 0.8-point decrease from 2019.

One of the most effective ways for India to improve its healthcare facilities and its standing, is to place a strong emphasis on digital transformation of healthcare delivery. It is technology-led solutions like virtual hospitals that will enable us as a country to come out of this pandemic with a better healthcare system than what we had going in. The silver lining of the COVID pandemic, if any, has been the fact that entrepreneurs, governments, philanthropic organizations and others have accelerated our progress towards developing a better and more equitable healthcare delivery solutions.

While India has made significant progress in the last two years toward becoming "Atmanirbhar" in the healthcare sector, it must continue on the path of development and adoption of new technology. The central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other state governments have played critical roles in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, with an emphasis on improving healthcare infrastructure and driving higher vaccinated rates. As a result, the country is in a much better position this year than it was. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement, and we must continue to move in the direction of a progressive healthcare system that will innovate and adopt new solutions to ensure high quality healthcare for all.

(Dr. Dhruv Joshi, Co-Founder & CEO of Cloudphysician. Views are personal)

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