A report by RedSeer Consulting indicates that the home healthcare industry in India is expected to grow at an impressive annual rate of 15-19 percent, reaching the market potential of $11-13 billion by 2025 from the present $5.4 billion. Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has led to an evident rise in the demand for home healthcare.
Additionally, India’s dismal doctor-to-patient ratio compels the need for alternative healthcare solutions. Medical institutions too are eager to partner with home care providers to ensure that in-patient care can be made available for the critically inclined. The report estimates that organised home healthcare providers are likely to serve 4-5 lakh patients by FY25, up from the present number of a lakh.
The traditional home healthcare setup that many of us relate to is of a physician or a nurse visiting an ageing family member to administer care at home. Over the last decade, home healthcare has seen tremendous changes. From intensive care setups at home to teleconsultations, post operative care to collection of blood samples, home healthcare has evolved to meet the changing needs of the consumer.
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The sector has seen an influx of professional home care players who are focused on providing organised, process driven and customer centric service. There is a lot of emphasis on following clinically driven protocols, hiring expert and trained clinicians, and following a patient centric approach.
For example, at Nightingales, every clinician and caregiver involved in the patient’s care plan is verified at multiple levels for their educational qualification, experience, and background, including police verification and health status for infectious diseases. The clinicians are trained rigorously on clinical and work skills on globally accepted standards of care. This ensures that the staff serving the patient is not only skillful at the job, but is safe for the patient and family.
There was a time when hospitals were considered the primary destination of care until organised home healthcare companies changed the healthcare delivery ecosystem by bringing many healthcare services to the homes of patients.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought a huge change in the way people perceive home healthcare. During the first and the second wave of the pandemic, most were hesitant to visit hospitals due to fear of infection. Visits for even simple procedures like injection administration and physiotherapy sessions felt like a daunting task. This is when they started looking at professional home healthcare as a viable option for accessing the required services without stepping out of their homes or exposing themselves to the risk of infection.
On the other hand, for patients who were diagnosed with Covid-19 and were recommended home quarantine, home healthcare companies started offering home quarantine programmes. Covid-19 patients who had mild symptoms managed their condition at home through constant medical supervision and teleconsultation that were of home quarantine packages. This definitely helped reduce the stress on the already overwhelmed healthcare systems in the country.
During Covid-19, Nightingales delivered about 4 lakh teleconsultations and helped nearly 10,000+ plus customers recover safely at home during the pandemic thereby de-clogging the already strained physical medical infrastructure in the country. Hospitals who traditionally saw home care as adversaries, now see us as partners.
Reducing cost to patient, insurance
Home healthcare is considered as a largely unorganised market. Traditionally, home care has been delivered by smaller agencies and mom-and-pop stores that didn’t guarantee standardised care. Since it was mostly an unorganised sector, the quality standards were not upto the mark. Due to these constraints, insurance companies stayed away from this healthcare delivery model.
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The Covid-19 pandemic was a big inflection point for the healthcare sector in terms of delivery of services. The chaos and paranoia that ensued, especially during the second wave of Covid-19 with bed and oxygen shortages in India and lack of adequate alternatives, forced policy makers, insurance companies and patients to take serious cognizance of at-home health care services.
Insurance companies realised that the home care model is effective in treating the patient safely at home while reducing the claim size from an average ₹1.1 lakh for covid related hospitalisation to about ₹15,000 for a Covid home quarantine programme. At Nightingales, we had tied up with ICICI Lombard and administered our home quarantine programme for our insured customer base during the first and the second wave of Covid-19.
Home healthcare has the potential to radically transform healthcare access and delivery, and reduce the overall costs for patients and insurance companies. Digital health has emerged as a key disruptor. From not having a formal teleconsultations policy prior to the pandemic to seamless adoption of teleconsultations, Indian healthcare has made rapid strides in the last 1.5 years.
Teleconsultations now cover multiple clinical disciplines like family medicine, specialties like neurology, internal medicine, gastroenterology, diabetology, oncology, endocrinology, along with psychology, nutrition, physiotherapy and nursing. This augurs well for underserved rural India to access better healthcare without physically travelling to towns and cities and in a very affordable manner. And add to this, point of care devices, wearable technology, body sensors and continuous remote monitoring that will further democratise healthcare at a breakneck speed.
(The writer is Chief Operating Officer, Nightingales Home Health Services. Views are personal.)