Digitising healthcare solutions | By Sikandar Zaman


Digitising healthcare solutions

HAVE you ever felt like you can’t even leave your bed, every muscle in your body is aching and you start wondering when this agony will end?

You also know that the person who can help you right now is a qualified doctor, but at the same time, you do not have the energy to go to the said doctor. There are many problems that hinder Pakistanis from getting timely, affordable treatment.

There is nothing as important in one’s life as one’s health, but one does not understand it until one loses it.

No amount of money or fun seem appealing when you are out of sorts. Even a simple sore throat is enough to destroy peace in your life.

The things you would typically enjoy, start meaning nothing to you and all you want is your health again.

There are certain cases when going to a doctor is simply not possible. Take the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan, for example.

GB is known for its beautiful mountains and isolation. There are 14 mountains in the world higher than 8,000 meters and 4 reside in the GB.

Only one road link connects this region to the rest of the country and that too can be cut off due to heavy snowfall, floods or avalanches.

Almost 60% of the population resides in rural areas, and one doctor is available for 4,327 people.

Looking at these stats, we can say with certainty that bringing accessibility to the healthcare sector is Absolutely necessary.

The fact of the matter is that quality-care needs to be available to everyone, everywhere and anytime.

Now, we talk about the working class. According to trading economics global macro models and analyst’s expectation, employed people in Pakistan are expected to reach 605,000,000 by the end of 2022.

And working people often complain that they have too little time or are too busy to seek medical care.

Furthermore, the clinic hours are usually inconvenient, and finding transportation is also tricky.

Besides the working population, it is difficult for people to go to the hospital when they are too sick to travel to the doctor’s office.

Many other problems prevent people from going to the clinic even when they need to see a doctor.

Other than accessibility, affordability is a major issue that Pakistanis face when it comes to health services here.

The out-of-pocket expenditure in the healthcare sector is outrageous. Every year, more than 14 billion is spent on physicians alone.

These include appointments made for casual health issues like cold and flu. Additionally, 287.002 billion is spent on pharmaceuticals and 13.222 billion on labs and diagnostic services.

The outrageous costs of healthcare services in the country hinder many patients from getting the care they need.

There is also a shortage of doctors in the country. According to reports, there were 245,987 registered doctors, 27,360 registered dentists and 116,659 registered nurses in 2020 against the whopping population of more than 240 million.

A physician (per 1,000 people) in Pakistan was reported at 1.1179 in 2019, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized sources.

Despite this shortage, we are lucky to house some of the most experienced and specialized doctors in Pakistan.

However, there is a catch here too. Pakistan is a developing country, hence, citizens often could not reach the relevant doctor and reach to an available doctor that usually become further complicated for the patient due to delay in reaching relevant specialist and being mistreated in the hands of local healthcare professionals without knowing if they are genuine or fake.

Another key issue here is when doctors often do not have access to the most developed medical equipment or medical research which hinders them from providing timely or accurate diagnoses, offering them the best treatment option or simply being able to administer treatment.

Pakistan desperately needs to address two key challenges of health sector – affordability and accessibility.

Using latest digital technologies, to connect citizens on audio or video call with a qualified and PMC certified doctors and allow people to avail services from a doctor at home.

Another key issue for doctors and patients alike is finalizing the treatment.

Doctors usually have access issues to latest health equipment, especially in smaller cities.

And citizens also have fear factor before finalizing the treatment options and always wanted to have another opinion from some more specialized and well equipped specialist from a more developed country.

So, the option of availability of second opinion from renowned doctors from other countries like US can be really handy for Pakistanis.

Recently, a few startups like WoW health have started such services for Pakistanis to connect them with doctors through phone and also give an option to connect patients with specialist doctors in the US, who have a better chance of offering potential alternative treatment options for complex diseases.

WoW Health introduced a very unique health service called ‘Second Opinion’. With more than 350,000+ US specialists on board, this service enables Pakistanis to get expert opinion from a panel of US doctors for rare and critical health conditions.

Second Opinion is Important. According to a study conducted by Mayo Clinic, out of all the cases they received for second opinion, more than 20% had been misdiagnosed, while 66% required some changes to their initial diagnosis.

Second Opinion can be used to get clarity in your initial diagnosis, for your peace of mind, or when the treatment suggested by your doctor isn’t improving your health condition.

Pakistan is a developing country that suffers from a lot of issues in its healthcare sector.

We should appreciate the new healthcare solutions that are being introduced in the market to fight against these issues by using latest digital tools to help people get relevant advice with affordability and convenience.

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.


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