Union Budget 2021: The word “unprecedented” is often used to describe the year 2020. It was the year of social distancing and the year when masks became our identity. The year also underscored the significance of a robust healthcare delivery system.
With a population of 1.38 billion, the pandemic posed an exceptionally dangerous threat to us. Protecting and preparing for all possible crises was a challenge that our frontline workers rose to marvellously.
The lockdown imposed in March 2020 was essential to slow down the spread of the virus, giving us valuable time to prepare for the situation. During this time, most people avoided hospitals and delayed elective procedures and treatments. Although it gave us a chance to reconnect with our loved ones; the isolation associated with the lockdown also had a significant psychological impact that many of us are still dealing with.
2020 has changed the way we look at healthcare. At an individual level, there is an increased interest in healthy living and preventative medicine & care. The sharp rise in the number of people getting flu vaccinations this year is a clear indication of the same.
For healthcare providers, the pandemic has forced us to redefine our safety protocols. PPE equipment has become a secondary skin to our frontline workers and strict screening and safety measures have been implemented to protect hospital staff and patients.
Pandemic induced restrictions during and after lockdowns, has spurred the digital transformation of the healthcare industry. Digital is now an important aspect of care delivery and healthcare institutions are racing to make their digital platforms user-friendly and seamless.
This wave of digitization in healthcare will be fuelled by artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, Big data & analytics, electronic records, 3D printing of prosthetics and telemedicine. While this will make the treatment experience seamless and location agnostic, it will more importantly drive superior medical outcomes and reduce human error. The consequent shift towards preventative and predictive care is perhaps the most exciting part of this transition.
However, there are still many gaps to be filled in this journey towards digitization. Protection against Data breaches and safeguarding personal data is one of the biggest concerns across industries. Ultimately, we need to strike a balance between the traditional and digital delivery model – the two are not to be seen as competition but as complements.
It is exciting to see how this digital movement is paving the way for on-demand, patient centric healthcare. The National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) aims to develop the backbone necessary to support the integrated digital health infrastructure of the country. The four pillars of NDHM namely: National Health ID, personal health records, Digi Doctor, and health facility registry, form the basis of a more inclusive and seamless patient experience. Under NDHM, digital consultation is also set to increase exponentially .
Through these digitisation initiatives and other comprehensive initiatives including Swachh Bharat, Ayushman Bharat, Skill India, Atmanirbhar Bharat, and now Mission COVID-19 Suraksha, it is clear that healthcare is key to the country’s development plans. With COVID-19 19 also having brought out the emphasis on public spending, the foremost expectation from the upcoming Budget is a higher outlay towards healthcare expenditure. The need for public hospitals is emerging strongly now, and therefore, Government schemes providing subsidized loans and land for setting up hospitals will go a long way.
Also, with the middle and lower middle class hit badly by the pandemic, there should be increased focus towards getting more and more people under health insurance. The pandemic has also reinstated the fact that the government needs significant investments in funding research on infectious diseases and strengthening the capabilities of institutions working in this area.
Looking to the future, the most anticipated event of 2021 is when the word Covid-19 is followed by vaccine instead of pandemic. The vaccine rollout is set to make history, being one of the largest mobilisations of public-private partnerships in the country. The year 2020 has set the basis for the digital transformation and innovation of the healthcare system, and we must work in scaling it, increasing digital inclusion in the remotest corners of the country.
Source Times of India