Dr Alex Yeates, medical director of Advanced, was one of the delegates to visit India as part of the recent healthcare trade mission led by the NHS chair. He shares his views on how the UK can share its digital healthcare innovations with other countries. 

Across the globe, nations are looking to reinvent their health systems to meet an unprecedented demand for healthcare. The success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sweeping plan to give half a billion Indians free access to healthcare will therefore be inextricably bound up in the health system’s ability to innovate, much like the future of the NHS.

Last month, representatives from top NHS hospitals and leading healthcare suppliers went to India on a trade mission to promote innovation in healthcare.

This is an exciting example of how countries can share best practice and transform their healthcare systems – not only to help healthcare professionals cope, but to consistently deliver better patient care.

It’s encouraging to see health leaders in India turning to technology for innovative solutions that will not only drive efficiencies from a cost perspective, but also create a positive outcome on patient care.

Mutual benefit

These innovations will increasingly lead to better patient access in remote areas and more personalised healthcare solutions. New healthcare models and solutions are driving India’s healthcare technology industry, which is expected to reach $14billion by 2020.

During the mission, we learnt that this is being fuelled by a growing middle class with greater access to internet and mobile broadband, along with increased health insurance coverage, improved healthcare infrastructure and rising expectations.

Given that digital transformation is already underway in the NHS, the UK is well placed to guide India towards meeting these new demands. We have already seen impressive collaboration between the British and Indian health systems, and, as one of the fastest developing economies in the world, India is fast becoming a vast market for UK health services and technology.

And for many years, the NHS has been an employer of  Indian doctors wanting to train and practice in one of the best healthcare environments in the world.

During the mission, many of the doctors and professors we engaged with talked proudly of their time in the NHS and how they had used their experience to deliver innovation in Indian healthcare.

Technological breakthroughs

It’s fair to say that both countries are looking to explore how the latest digital innovations can reshape how we care for patients. Last year was crucial for telemedicine in the NHS, with patients beginning to be offered routine GP appointments via a mobile phone app for the first time, for example Ask NHS App and the launch of an online version of the 111 telephone advice service.

In India, a similar telephone-based system has the potential to transform the way healthcare is delivered to two-thirds of the population living in rural areas. It could also transform the efficiency of emergency medical services, manage care for the elderly, and dramatically improve the accuracy of treatment provided.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been another area where the NHS has made important progress. The NHS is currently testing the deployment of AI for the diagnosis of breast cancer, eye disease and kidney disease. India has similarly been trialling it to diagnose cervical cancers and improve blood test accuracy.

Affordable innovation

But it’s not just a one-way street. The UK should learn more from India’s expertise in affordable innovation. India faces significant shortages of healthcare workers and infrastructure, resulting in a lack of comprehensive treatment options. But in spite, or perhaps because of this, India is ripe with examples of innovations in healthcare delivery to provide better healthcare for less.

The country’s relentless reduction in waste is pivotal to its mission of improving quality, access and safety to healthcare. The concept of frugal innovation – that more can be done with less in a faster, cheaper and more efficient manner – is a necessity in emerging economies like India.

I came across a good example of this while visiting an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Hyderabad. Staff were using technologies such as remote camera monitoring of ICU equipment to enhance patient wellbeing coupled with the WhatsApp messaging service to share patient notes and scans.

While WhatsApp is also being used in clinical settings in the UK because it is free and offers end-to-end encryption, it is the nature of combining these technologies and innovation in ICU delivery that allows a smaller, central team of rare commodities.

For example, highly trained ICU nurses and clinicians can manage and monitor multiple wards in remote locations, which positively impacts the lives of patients who previously would not have had access to critical expert care.

Developed economies, like the UK, could do well to adopt a similar bottom-up approach. All of the doctors and physicians we spoke to in India talked about the difficulty of delivering critical healthcare in the “last mile” and this is where innovation in tele health will be key.

Collaboration is key

Therefore it’s time to make the complex simple and find technology that ‘just works’ – we should not get distracted by hype that will deliver little value. Whether it be the use of electronic patient records, wearables and self-management apps, or the accelerating progress in 3D printing, predictive analytics and personalised medicine, there is little doubt that both health systems will transform radically over the next decade.

Advanced, which provides solutions to help deliver a significant proportion of the underlying digital solutions for NHS 111, believes that a blueprint approach to health services is needed.

Prime Minister Modi’s free healthcare plan,  will only succeed through innovation, so why not take this innovation from UK initiatives and recreate this in India as part of the platform for success? In the UK, software, triage pathways and operational excellence in telehealth are proved to cater for in excess of 14 million calls per annum.

As the recent trade mission to India has shown, collaboration will be the main driver in sharing best practice and transforming global healthcare for the better.

Dr Alex Yeates is medical director of Advanced Health & Care.

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