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Covid-19 Cloud Has Silver Lining for Indian Healthcare

In the words of Martin Luther King “Only in the darkness can you see the stars”.  The Covid-19 pandemic continues to loom like a specter over our country, and the world. Despite weeks of lockdown the numbers of new infections continues to rise or remain static. The only difference seems to be that the geography changes, as newer regions brace to face their infection peaks. In the face of this tsunami of negativity is there any scope for optimism? From the perspective of Indian healthcare the following positives can be drawn from what appears to be an otherwise bleak Covid-19 scenario.

  • Physician safety has become a priority

Appropriately, the role of physicians and of healthcare workers overall has come into focus, in what is perceived as a war against a microbial enemy. While violence against doctors had become a major issue pre-Covid, no law to enforce action had been passed.This changed due to Covid-19.

Due to the pandemic the Central government has now made any violence against doctors, nurses and healthcare staff a cognizable and non-bailable offence by bringing in an ordinance to criminalise violence against healthcare workers. A period of 30 days will be given for investigation and an accused in the matter can be sentenced from three months to five years, with a penalty of Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 2 lakh. A sentence of six months to seven years can be awarded in case of grievous injuries to healthcare workers, with a penalty of Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh.

Apart from this, there seems to be a genuine effort in place to ensure the availability of PPE for front-line healthcare staff involved in care of patients with a disease that poses a unique and unprecedented threat to healthcare personnel. Disinfection protocols, quarantine regulations etc are being strictly enforced to ensure the safety of the front-line staff. Fundamentally, the realisation has dawned, or at least significantly grown, that only by protecting its healthcare professionals can a nation/world protect itself.

  • Greater respect for the Indian medical profession

As a corollary to the experiences of Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian medical community has been receiving plaudits and new respect. The Prime Minister, through word and action, has lauded the role and contribution of the medical community in the Covid-19 pandemic and even the armed forces have paid their respect to our healthcare ‘forces’ through fly pasts and other means, and the same with the Indian diaspora.  The current Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a renewed expression of respect for immigrant physicians including those of Indian origin. Recently, in Connecticut, USA, a physician of Indian  origin who had been taking care of patients during the Covid crisis, received a drive-by salute (Drive-of-Honor) by a motorcade of appreciative citizens, as was reported in the news. Further, the hosting of international webinars by Indian institutions serve to place focus on India as a center of quality medical training (for example: the Society of Emergency Radiology, supported by the Telerad Foundation (www.teleradfoundation.org), conducted a recent webinar on Imaging in Covid which attracted 300 participants from around the world).

  • An opportunity to occupy the centre of the telemedicine universe

Prior to March 23, 2020, the legal status of telemedicine in India was unclear. However, on this landmark day the central government formally confirmed the legality of telemedicine in India. In fact, when the Covid-19 lockdown started it became clear that telemedicine was the easiest way to enable a doctor consultation while simultaneously observing social distancing. This has led to a rapid increase in the acceptance and utilisation of telemedicine in India in the past month. India has, for close to two decades, been providing high level radiology reporting services to developed countries such as the US and Singapore as well as to many other parts of the world. In Tele-ICU similar strides have been made in recent times by Indian-based providers managing patients in ICUs in the US. Our expertise in information technology and medicine  coupled with experience in remote delivery of such high-end services provides India a chance to occupy center stage in this futuristic space.

  • Accelerate Pharma, Biotech and technology innovation around and beyond COVID-19

India has traditionally not been viewed as a center for research or innovation in medical technology. However COVID -19 provides an opportunity to correct this. The Pune based Serum Institute of India has announced collaboration with Oxford University in COVID-19 vaccine development. India’s largest Biotech company Biocon has announced the re-purposing of one of its immunomodulator therapies for treatment of patients with COVID-19. A number of companies and organizations have entered the space of developing COVID-19 PCR testing kits and antibody assays. Clinical research in the field of plasma therapy in COVID-19 treatment has been announced. Another interesting space is the development of AI algorithms focused on detection of COVID-19 pneumonia on medical imaging. All of this activity has the potential to stimulate and revitalize the Indian healthcare industry.

Even the large cloud that represents the Covid-19 pandemic comes with a potential silver lining for the Indian healthcare industry. Innovation, creativity and hard work are all virtues that the industry will need to display in abundance in order to derive sustained benefit from the battle that lies ahead.

About the author:

Dr Arjun Kalyanpur is the CEO and Chief Radiologist at Teleradiology Solutions. He is an American Board-Certified and Fellowship trained Radiologist, and a prolific advocate of AI in Radiology. He is co-founder of the Telerad Foundation that provides teleradiology services to remote areas in Asia that do not have access to high quality medical care. He was honoured with the ‘Healthcare Entrepreneur of the Year’ award by Frost & Sullivan in 2015.

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