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Three Ways Tech Is Changing Health Care

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Jul 6, 2015

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Technology is changing the face of health care in India for both patients and doctors. Today, no matter where you’re located, it’s possible to upload or assess your digital medical records, track the medication you need online, book an appointment, or communicate with your doctor virtually. Here, we look at three companies that are leveraging technology in new ways to improve access to health care and strengthen the quality of care.

MERADOCTOR

When Dr. Ajay Nair and Gautam Ivatury established MeraDoctor, a virtual primary care service in 2011, they did so with the philosophy that knowledge is power that should be put into the hands of patients, who are often left bewildered amid India’s uncoordinated and often impersonal health care system.

“We realized that most patients in India have never had the opportunity to discuss their medical problems in detail with their family physicians,” Dr Nair explained. “They’re intimidated by doctors, can’t related to them as friends or confidantes, and often find themselves forced out of consultation rooms before they can resolve their doubts. Seldom are they encouraged to ask questions.”

MeraDoctor, he said, seeks to fill the country’s dearth of primary care physicians. Through the app, you can connect with a primary care physician for a 15-minute personal and interactive session. The app was launched four months ago and has since emerged as India’s largest digital health service, with more than 100,000 registered users. It’s proven successful in surprising spheres: Uncommonly for most digital platforms in India, about half of MeraDoctor users are women, who appreciate the quickness and privacy the app offers them and their families, Dr. Nair says.

Quick take: The app – user-friendly, quick, and confidential – is free and easily downloaded onto Android phones. Once downloaded, you can live chat with a doctor’s assistant who asks about your needs and connects you with a primary care physician in any city across the country, whose consultation is free.

The drawback: MeraDoctor is no substitute for a family doctor, as the doctors you chat with can’t make any actual prescriptions or order treatments. But they can advise, via live chat, on medical terminology, treatments, and whether your concern warrants an in-person visit to your doctor.  Also, the MeraDoctor team is responsible for selecting the participating doctors, so buying into this system means trusting them entirely with quality control; perhaps user-generated reviews would help to weed out the doctors who weren’t adept at communicating effectively via live chat.

PLAN MY HEALTH

In any country, navigating the health care system can sometimes be as painful as whatever malady you need treated. In India, where the system is a sprawling jumble of disconnected players, it can be especially tortuous. Health management companies have proliferated over the past decade, but newer players, like Plan My Health, established by Jainam Wellness in 2013, are embracing medicine’s digital possibilities.

Plan My Health allows you to book health services online, just as you would use a travel site to book air tickets.  The doctor – either from Plan My Health’s 12 in-house physicians or from its network of 6,000+ medical professionals across the country – will come to your home and conduct the exam you ordered. Additionally, Plan My Health hosts an online marketplace for health care services, allowing you to find and purchase the most affordable options for a procedure, whether an appendectomy or a visit with an obstetrician.

Plan My Health also digitizes your medical records, sending you an updated, electronic medical history after every check-up. This allows patients to access their medical records online, anywhere, and eliminates at home those clunky, stationary cabinets full of reports and scans.

“Our goal is to offer a comprehensive health plan that focuses on preventing and reversing illness as much as on promoting good health,” says CEO Akshay Shah. “Based on parameters such age, gender, medical and family history, we provide customers with an analysis of the diseases/conditions that they could possibly be at risk to in the future and we advise them on how to prevent/delay onset.”

Quick take: If you have a demanding career and are too time-starved to visit a general physician, an affordable house call can be a lifesaver. And it’s about time we stop carrying around our test results in folders that are easy to lose and impossible to keep track of.

The drawback: The start-up is still at a very nascent stage, and home health services are currently limited to a general health check-up, physiotherapy, yoga, and nursing. And while the idea of an online marketplace for health services seems exciting, And while the idea of an online marketplace for health services seems exciting, it’s only a place to start; the site doesn’t provide information around quality or credentials, so there’s still a bit of homework for patients to do. And due to the relative youth of this company, trusting its data security safeguards is a bit of a gamble.

APERVITA, INC.

As medical history increasingly becomes digitized, the possibility of a global, medical “cloud” is guiding the future of health care. Apervita is a health tech innovator based in Chicago that seeks to bring health care into the era of Big Data and enable doctors to access and share medical data across many technological platforms.

Rick Halton, GM & CMO of Apervita, Inc. says, “Most health systems around the globe have invested in digitizing the patient record, creating a wealth of PHI data that has the potential to transform people’s lives globally. Now, we are beginning to transition from just digitizing and storing the patient records, to connecting it to shared health intelligence.”

This involves turning your medical records into computable data through Apervita’s technology, which then runs analyses on it against its database of private health data from around the world. This would allow physicians real-time access to computed, predictive insights into your health risks, trends, and recommendations, all while maintaining your medical history’s confidentiality.

Quick take: Having access to this kind of database – and its real-time analysis– can validate and even improve physicians’ findings and treatment recommendations. Apervita is also involved in making data transferable, so all health professionals can share their knowledge and observations easily. For patients, this means you get the benefit of high volumes of global data of patient profiles that mirror yours – and may hold the key to your diagnosis or treatment.

The drawback: A cloud of people’s computable medical data will open new doors in medicine — but it also presents new concerns. While Apervita is also at the forefront of developing protections for this kind of data, as with any kind of personal information online, there’s a risk it won’t always remain personal. Apervita’s success will depend largely on how readily the world’s largest health systems will hand their digitized records over to the company for analysis, and whether the patterns that emerge from those data are helpful and predictive.

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Written By Kamala Thiagarajan

Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the International New York Times, The Reader’s Digest (Indian edition), National Geographic Traveller, American Health & Fitness, Firstpost.com and more. She has written articles on the subjects of health, fitness, gender issues, travel and lifestyle for a global audience and has been published in newspapers and magazines in over ten countries. Visit her virtual home at kamala-thiagarajan.com or follow her @Kamal_t

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