Technological interventions in public health  

The importance of leveraging digital technology in healthcare has only been truly realized during the global Covid-19 pandemic, writes Vibhav Garg

About Author: Vibhav Garg serves as the Director-Health Economics & Govt Affairs for India, India HUB & ASEAN and Head-Govt Business, India & India HUB for Boston
Scientific. With an extensive global experience of more than 2 decades, Vibhav has previously held various strategic positions with US & India headquartered organizations like GE Healthcare, Boston Scientific India, Confederation of India Industry, Mascon Global among others. He serves on the committees of many top medical technology associations and has also been advising Departments of IT, Health, and Biotechnology in various capacities.

India’s healthcare sector has progressed immensely in the last decade and half owing to advancements in medical technology across all segments. Ranging from consumables or disposables to IVDs and implants to medical equipment, these have been supported by key government initiatives to make quality healthcare more accessible and affordable for all. These include National Health Policy (NHP), Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY), National Health Mission (NHM), Ayushman Bharat- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), and Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM).  However, the importance of leveraging digital technology in healthcare has only been truly realized during the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Turning Covid-19 challenge into opportunity
At a time when the world was reeling under tremendous pressure during Covid-19 pandemic, the healthcare sector, though late entrant, became one of the few sectors to adapt to the evolving needs of patients and communities with respect to critical care requiring in-person doctor consultations and continued care for non-COVID-19 illnesses.  As a result, the traditional patient–physician care model had to be re-examined in many countries, with digital technology and new models of care being rapidly deployed to meet the various challenges of the pandemic. The Government of India, for instance, led the way by successfully driving the world’s first digital vaccination drive with close to 9.9 billion registrations via CoWIN, a web portal/app for Covid-19 vaccination registration, launched in 2021.
In a first, India deployed indigenously developed drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to access compromised areas and strengthen the vaccine delivery system. However, this was not the first time a technological intervention was brought in to solve a healthcare challenge. Innovative digital platform eVIN (electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network) was introduced in 2016 to reduce vaccine wastage and strengthen immunization supply chain systems across the country. Similarly, Government e-marketplace (GeM), was launched in the same year with an aim of developing an open, efficient, and transparent procurement platform. Both these technologies witnessed large-scale application during India’s fight against Covid-19.
Fast tracking adoption of digital tech in pharma & MedTech
The Pharma and MedTech sector followed suit by adopting digital technology to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicines, diagnostics, medical devices for both Covid and Non-Covid requirements across India. In fact, resilient global supply chains came handy to be able to deliver covid related devices like masks, oxygen concentrators, ventilators etc. to India from across the globe. India used the same to be able to ensure covid drug supplies to various countries. However, in order to ensure the availability of critical drugs, devices & diagnostics to masses in India, there is a clear need that India should become a part of the global supply chain and value chain as well.
The year 2022 can well be touted as the year when the global economies, including India, prepared for a re-start, after two tumultuous years of the global pandemic. From mobile health applications to monitor healthcare delivery to setting up telemedicine facilities for patients far and wide, the healthcare sector witnessed a renewed focus on leveraging digital technology. In a new normal, healthcare organizations in the public and private sector will further continue to invest in innovations and initiatives, focused at bringing the healthcare provider and patients closer by building agile and efficient supply chain systems while maintaining the high product quality and controlling cost.
As we know, a well-designed primary care system can reduce the burden on secondary and tertiary care systems, improve national productivity, and reduce the overall cost of care in the country, which is also the foundation of National Health Policy 2017. There has been a conscious effort to implement healthcare reforms like upgrading PHCs (Primary Health Centers) into HWCs (Health & Wellness Centers), National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) now known as Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) and formalizing teleconsulting guidelines to make healthcare journey effective and inclusive for the Indian population. With ABDM, the government is creating a nationwide digital health infrastructure with an intent to support data management, portability, create health IDs, and create a seamless payment architecture with insurance companies and private providers.
Another important example of technology bringing a paradigm shift in healthcare delivery is innovative medical technologies. The MedTech sector, together with the government and nonprofits, is focusing on driving meaningful innovations in improving diagnostics, therapeutics, and quality of care using technology such as AI and machine learning to strengthen healthcare delivery. As medical technology providers, we are now expanding to improve access to quality care across each stage of the healthcare continuum. Upskilling of paramedics and physicians through simulation-based training on the latest devices would continue to remain an area of focus as we move to 2023.
Future outlook
Among Global MedTech organizations, there is an added focus on expanding their footprints in India by keeping up with the changing needs of healthcare providers and patients, which includes wider investments in setting up R&D centers, Engineering & Technology centers, Skilling Centers in India, and continuously innovating to bring in the latest technology that can be provided to both public and private healthcare organizations.
At Boston Scientific, our vision goes beyond just providing medical technology, evolving into meaningful partnerships and innovative solutions that place patients at the center of healthcare delivery. Our technologies and initiatives improve patient outcomes and enhance quality of life. Earlier this year, Boston Scientific India launched its second R&D centre with the aim of capitalizing on the country’s R&D expertise, providing diverse opportunities for engineers and innovators in the country, and at the same time reinforcing its commitment to contribute meaningfully to the innovation landscape of medical devices in India.

**This article was first published in the January 2023 edition of the BioVoice eMagazine. The views expressed by the author are his own.