Towards a purpose-driven future

Transforming healthcare for better systems and aiming toward better outcomes for all

By Karishma Mishra

In the last couple of months, my involvement with “Design for Markets” has focused on many groundbreaking ideas and initiatives at Philips Experience Design, Bangalore. Working on some of their projects has been an exhilarating and rewarding learning experience for me. Certain principles guide the way the team works. Empathy is at the heart of design, and ‘care for all’ drives the creation of the user experience. The goal is to deliver an integrated high-quality healthcare solution that is sustainable.

What is ‘care for all’? — it is an extensive concept that considers what is required to help everyone get the healthcare they need at the right time without it costing an arm and a leg. ‘Care for all’ is not just about providing referrals, but it’s deeply personal. In the simplest terms, ‘care for all’ means having prompt and convenient access to personal health services and resources to ensure the desired outcomes. Together, health insurance, available healthcare options, and the usual sources of care enable us to receive proper health and wellness. Furthermore, having access to equitable healthcare allows underserved, uninsured and under-resourced individuals to enter the healthcare system. It empowers them to find quality healthcare locally to meet their health needs without burning a hole in their pockets and incurring huge debts.

Let me explain using one of the most significant public health challenges of today — Covid-19.

The pandemic has impacted all segments of the population. It continues to openly challenge and capsize healthcare systems worldwide. Meanwhile, preventive measures to break transmission chains such as social distancing have transformed entire societies. People have undergone seismic behavioral shifts, reducing physical and social contact as part of a larger mitigation strategy. However, the impact on underserved populations living with healthcare inequalities and implicit (or explicit) biases has been much worse.

Not long ago, healthcare providers were stepping up efforts amid increasingly overwhelming challenges due to limited human resources, inadequate infrastructure, poor supply chain and transportation difficulties. Routine visits to healthcare providers came to a standstill while other patients avoided scheduling appointments to limit risk exposure. At the same time, outpatient care changed. Many physicians saw fewer patients, deferred elective and preventive visits or were unable to track existing ones. Meanwhile, the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of healthcare, with telemedicine emerging as a powerful tool in the delivery of care. Providers scuffled to maintain quality care across the health continuum while patients remained unaware or sceptical. As cases resurge, the crisis continues to have a profound effect on everyone’s well-being, severely impacting the most vulnerable and underserved.

Access to trusted and equitable healthcare is now more critical than ever.

In India, we are again gearing up for the latest ‘new normal’ with emerging variants, looming unknowns and many questions. What does this mean for the future of health and healthcare delivery? What will be the impact of the lessons learnt during the pandemic? Are we prepared in the wake of unanticipated threats? How will we create sustainable and versatile healthcare systems and practices that will not just survive but thrive?

Uncertainty amid the raging virus heightens the call to action.

In India, underserved populations have swallowed the toughest pill in bearing the brunt of the health and economic impacts of the virus. The past year has been tragic due to the sheer number of lives lost. Indeed, the inequalities struck a personal chord during a recent conversation with the watchman working in my building. Since we were both vaccinated, we talked about how the coronavirus had impacted (and continues to impact) the world and nostalgia for our previous daily routines. During this conversation, I learned he had lost more than half of his family in the village. Distressed with the information, I asked whether it was due to a lack of supplies or resources. He gave me a straight and sobering reply. “Not only that, but everyone lacked the motivation to switch villages or travel long distances for treatment. They weren’t convinced that proper care would be given in new locations or by new doctors.”

In another conversation with our home help, I found out that her sister’s twelve-year-old daughter was a fatality of the latest wave of coronavirus. She had not received timely treatment and had succumbed to diarrhoea. When I asked what caused the delay and why she wasn’t rushed to the nearest primary health center (PHC), I discovered she never went to a PHC. Instead, she was first brought to a local quack (jhola-chhap) and later to an exorcist. It turned out that they all believed medications offered at government clinics had expired and were of inferior quality.

As an Indian, these were not new insights for me. The country’s vast low-income populations struggle with access to daily meals and other basic needs. So it’s no surprise they seek other healthcare options. There is simply no room in their lives for overhead costs, debts or additional efforts towards solving seemingly less pressing problems. Smartphone usage is an example of this. Even though smartphone penetration in India (urban and rural) is steady with active use of wifi and the internet, access to instant care is still surprisingly complex. Despite being a tap away, many apps are perceived as too expensive or only for the higher class and will not be readily accepted by the larger population.

Convenience, cost, awareness, culture and behaviour are certainly burning issues for debate. However, the pandemic has made me think about a more significant problem lurking above the care provision value chain — the absence of trust.

Providing access to quality healthcare and hospital treatment.

With shifting demands across the healthcare delivery ecosystem, it’s easy to identify the many problems. Insufficient facilities, staff shortages, incomplete manual records or recurring medicine shortages are just a few. In the meantime, India’s primary care faces both structural and cultural challenges. As a result, much-needed resources are redirected from disadvantaged communities and timely access to quality care is compromised for the general population. The challenge today is not just to bring an end to this pandemic. It is to build resilience in the face of future emergencies through access to equitable healthcare for all.

“At Philips, we aim to improve the lives of 2.5 billion people a year by 2030, including 400 million people in underserved communities. Philips aims to bring in critical capabilities and unlock access to the Indian primary care sector to expand access to care and help in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC).”

In India, there is an urgent need to improve healthcare access and establish an independent and well-connected infrastructure to strengthen the country’s healthcare systems. Three issues are fundamental to addressing these challenges: knowing the community, leveraging ubiquitous technology and building sustainable care models.

Knowing the community- Improving healthcare efficiency means aligning proposed reforms with the local population’s evolving needs, goals and aspirations. In a country as vast as India, engaging with communities throughout the transformation process will help to stimulate a progressive and responsive culture and identify fresh ways of support. Avoiding a “one-size-fits-all” strategy will go a long way towards reducing inequities and improving healthcare standards. Personalized value propositions will motivate people to adopt change, spread awareness and help revamp care delivery around complex health problems. It also creates a health system that responds when it matters, promotes growth and fosters community trust.

Leveraging ubiquitous technology — Universal acceptance and promotion of a secure digital health infrastructure that is standardized, customized and convenient will help reduce apprehensions and increase access to universal health coverage (UHC). Implementing technology-enhanced innovations through digitization, cloud computing, automation and securing end-user participation has many benefits. They enable well-linked networks and allow seamless integration of ecosystems (eg. medical devices becoming EMR ready with IoT or smart-tech in telehealth). These innovations also support precision health and reduce care variability (eg. data-driven practices for consistent care help decrease costs). Efforts to encourage technology adoption in care programs in underserved communities involve overcoming many hurdles such as lack of trust or limited knowledge. Connecting and engaging with the community, using reliable tools, and democratizing healthcare and population health management are some of the ways to improve confidence. Building trust with the community can help meet cultural, clinical and operational goals.

Building sustainable care models — Cultivating robust systems is essential. Proposed solutions must fulfill strict testing standards to ensure they are feasible, viable and meet community needs. Your standard cookie-cutter approaches will not work. It will also be necessary to create scalable models with a priority on the most vulnerable. Partnerships with industry startups and the support of multiple stakeholders will strengthen the overall initiative (eg. National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), Public Private Partnerships (PPP), or Healthcare as a Service (HaaS) models). Cooperating and collaborating to explore the best alternatives, understanding dynamics and capturing value exchange will significantly contribute to integrating and accelerating care delivery transformation.

“At Philips, we believe digital and technological innovation along the health continuum is key to expanding access to care and achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Our digital and technological innovations help consumers play a more active role in the management of their own health and optimize care delivery across the continuum.”

We will need to incorporate deep empathy, diversity and social and digital inclusion to activate resilient systems.

Resilience is rooted in habits we can cultivate and change. — Andrew Zolli

As a Design Strategist, I am proud to be part of a trailblazing and disruptive innovation hub and to be working with an encouraging, vibrant and diverse team. Whether we’re building future capabilities, designing with intention, embracing ‘real virtuality’ with remote work or teaming up to create breakthrough solutions, the team always goes above and beyond. A curious mind is a powerful driving force in this team. It also represents a multitude of disciplines with different perspectives and wholeheartedly welcomes change and non-linearity. As a result, I get to wear multiple hats, collaborate, on winning ideas and reimagine solutions for a better tomorrow.

If you are a square peg in a round hole, have plenty of creativity and love collaborating on big ideas, Philips is the place to be! Although it took me a minute to find my footing, I’ve finally got my sea legs thanks to an amazing team. It feels like a dream come true to be part of an organisation that walks the talk.

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Learn more how we reimagine healthcare in transformative ways to ensure care is provided to those most in need.

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