In conversation with Dr Deepika Saraf, Health System Strengthening Expert, Swasth.

While the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has accelerated the adoption of digital health services, there is still a long way to go.

What is Swasth, how did the concept come about and what does it entail?

Swasth is a coalition of like-minded individuals, organizations and donors which came together in the middle of a Pandemic that threatened to disrupt the healthcare ecosystem in India, to improve access to health services in an equitable manner through the use of best available technology solutions. In the process a Super App was created leveraging India’s technology prowess to deliver equal and affordable healthcare to the citizens of India, cutting across geographical and income divides. With support from more than 200 volunteers, the concept is now taking the shape of a mission. While the initial focus was on increasing immediate reach and creating positive impact in the fight against COVID, the mission now aspires to turbo-charge a new era of digital healthcare delivery. The platform has evolved into a Digital Healthcare Network from a tele-heath platform for corona care. As a part of this metamorphosis, the platform recently broadened services by launching the first comprehensive service for mental wellbeing. It includes a 24x7 crisis helpline, content for self-care, online therapy by medical specialists and wellness packages for healthy living. The platform will continue to work on creating similar healthcare solutions for the country.

What are you aiming to achieve with Swasth? What are the challenges?

Swasth aims to lay the foundation for a unified technology framework that is likely to form the digital backbone for healthcare delivery in India. The long term goal is to digitally and instantly connect 1.3 billion Indians to best healthcare services at their time and convenience. This framework will also enable doctors and entrepreneurs to launch a wide plethora of healthcare innovations that would benefit the patients in a multitude of ways. While we are marching towards our goal, one of the biggest challenges we are facing is the lack of awareness among people about digital health services. While the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has accelerated the adoption of digital health services, there is still a long way to go. Swasth volunteers are working relentlessly on the ground to educate the masses about the benefits of the platform as a result of which, we have witnessed a consistent increase in the number of people visiting the platform. So far, around 2,50,000 doctor-patient interactions have taken place on Swasth app. The platform generates about 2,000 doctor-hours per day.

Elaborate about the medical council - who are the members and what is this council aiming to do?

The Medical council of Swasth consists of Public Health Specialists, leading clinicians, hospital owners, hospital administrators, telemedicine providers and thought leaders in healthcare industry. The council gives clinical oversight to the initiative and also aligns the telehealth solutions in the most feasible manner as per the norms laid down by various Government bodies. This ensures that the practices adopted in creating digital solutions for various doctor-patient interactions are at par with the best practices nationally and internationally. The council is striving towards adopting the highest standards in quality of care for the patients seeking healthcare through this platform.

Elaborate on the tech that makes sure the allocation is unbiased

Swasth facilitates seamless, remote interaction between verified registered medical practitioners and patients through multiple modes of video and telephony. While we ensure that the experience is convenient for the patients and care-givers, it is imperative for us to make sure that the process is fair and unbiased for the service providers as well. The ‘Round Robin’ algorithm designed by the volunteers allocates the incoming calls from the patients in a democratic fashion to all the health-tech companies associated with the consortium.When a new consultation request comes in all providers are polled for their ability to service the that request - an allocation is then made keeping in mind language of the consultation, capacity of the provider networks and also demand serviced so far. Thus, in low demand all providers see low but equal demand. On the contrary, when demand is high each provider network services maximum consultations in line with their capacity.

Future of digital healthcare and e-pharmacy

The post-covidian Indian healthcare ecosystem will be radically different from the one before the outbreak of the pandemic. There is an evident behavioural change in the way individuals have started accessing healthcare in our country. People are already opting for telemedicine apps even for delivering monthly medicines, booking appointments, home based sample collection of tests etc.

This trend, which is a necessity right now, will act as a catalyst to accelerate the adoption of telemedicine in the country. With the smartphone users in Indian poised to grow to 500 million by 2025, this transition will be smooth and swift. Additionally, with increased usage and aggregation of health data, we should expect larger share of decision making to be based on artificial intelligence when it comes to maintaining our health. We believe the proportion of dependency on artificial intelligence is likely to grow with every passing day. The use cases of AI in the field of medicine would assist doctors in taking decisions in a more efficient manner.

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