Digital Technology  Instrument

The Doctor in Your Pocket: A New Form of Care

By Khawar Mann, Managing Director, The Abraaj Group

There is a fundamental transformation underway in growth markets, as changes in demographics, wealth and urbanization sweep through society.

In the healthcare sector, there are both new challenges and new opportunities. On the one hand, there is the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and widespread infectious diseases such as malaria, and on the other, the potential to expand the reach of healthcare like never before with the advent of mobile health, or mhealth.

Massive digital enablement is underway in growth markets. People are using smartphones ahead of all other forms of digital technology, and young people especially are looking to this new connectivity to provide innovative solutions to the problems they face.

Bridging the Gap

In many growth markets there has been a scarcity of high quality healthcare, a shortage of healthcare specialists and a lack of reliable drug supplies. Disenchanted with the traditional model of care, people are seeking out new approaches online.

At Abraaj, we believe that these twin forces of technological innovation and shifting demand will combine to bring about profound change. Together, they will drive a virtuous circle of digital enablement in healthcare growth markets over the next five years.

Source: University of North Carolina

A new form of care

mHealth is already undergoing phenomenal growth. What was a US$6.7 billion global industry in 2012 is projected to be worth nearly US$60 billion by 2020. And while mhealth is growing worldwide, its increase is especially pronounced in growth markets. For example, the size of India’s mhealth industry is projected to increase tenfold in the six years to 2020.

The growth of so-called lifestyle diseases – non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension – has accompanied increased wealth in growth markets. Those suffering from NCDs often only access healthcare when their condition has become severe and difficult, or even impossible, to treat. If nothing is done to change this situation, in a few years 80% of global NCD deaths will occur in growth markets.

This is an area in which mhealth can make a dramatic difference. With new, low cost technologies people can be tested and diagnosed in the community by frontline healthcare workers using smartphones.  Once diagnosed they can then be monitored via their own smartphones from central hubs while they remain at home. Their condition can be managed effectively and cheaply.

Already, testing for diabetes and other conditions can be carried out cost effectively in the community. Retinal scans can be done in the field and sent to a hub for analysis. More and more early intervention will become available – and this will have a huge impact on communities.

Hub and spoke

Successful testing in the community relies on the hub and spoke model which is key to bringing quality healthcare to growth markets. Central hubs of medical staff can offer advice and diagnosis when needed but do not need to see the patients in person.

Technology allows specialists who may be thousands of miles away to give expert advice.  Tele-radiology, for example, means a doctor in Africa who wants to double check a scan can show it to a specialist in India. This real-time system brings world-class expertise to millions of people at relatively low cost.

Intensive care specialists in one part of the world could advise local physicians of treatment options by closely monitoring the patient’s condition remotely. Many broader aspects of training and development can also be delivered this way.

A different model

With the smartphone in so many hands around the world, the future of healthcare is full of possibilities.

The use of artificial intelligence and deep machine learning could offer initial triage as well as highly specialised work in radiology and other diagnostics.  Low cost sensors tracking elements such as blood pressure or glucose levels of patients in their home 24/7 are set to tackle NCDs cheaply and effectively.

If governments allow companies to collect and mine health data, value for money should be increased and better, more targeted treatment devised for growth market patients.

The list goes on.

At Abraaj, we believe that the advent of new digital technologies will, and should, transform healthcare. We have an opportunity in growth markets to avoid many of the mistakes of developed markets and have enough digital data and enough enablement to keep populations well. This is the hope we are realising: a different, better, model of healthcare.

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