#4 Reimagining Cancer Care

In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the National Cancer Grid – a network of 150+ cancer centres in India – and in the process, better understand the workflows involved in different medical processes and the requirements of medical professionals. I have closely observed care delivery, interviewed cancer patients and oncologists, learnt about current challenges and about initiatives being undertaken by NCG and other organisations to tackle them.

This blog post is an evolved version of an earlier post, where I had talked about the use cases of health data and the implementation of a PHR (Personal Health Record). Of these, I believe that the biggest use of health data will be in improving the quality of care in complex medical cases (either acute like surgical procedures, or chronic like cancer). In this post, I will use cancer care to exemplify this.

Core idea
Let us visualise a specific application for cancer care, with oncologists as its primary users. There are only around 1000 trained oncologists in India, so let’s assume that all of them are users of this application. Let us also assume that clinical data of all patients treated by these oncologists is conveniently accessible through this application (with due privacy and security measures). What will these users do now?

Expert consultation
I attended a Virtual Tumour Board run by the National Cancer Grid – a weekly remote consultation program run on Saturday mornings where teams of doctors voluntarily join to discuss well-documented cases and their potential treatment plans. VTBs are run separately for each speciality (like head & neck tumour, gynaecology, neurology, etc.), which means that it takes up to 4-6 weeks for one’s turn. Doctors usually do not have the luxury of such long waiting periods, and therefore turn to individual consultations which are often not documented, depend on informal connects and are sometimes made with incomplete data. Formalising this process and making it asynchronous can be of huge benefit to all medical professionals.

Care team collaboration

Complex medical procedures often involve a team of doctors and other medical professionals, working responsibly for a given patient. A significant percentage of all deaths due to medical negligence is caused by lack of communication between the care team members. The communication process today is paper-based and unstructured, leading to accidents that can, in fact, be prevented – especially with the growing use of IoT devices and voice-based inputs. (I saw one such application at Narayana Health being used by their ICU teams).

Performance evaluation

Lack of organised data, changing patient care-providers and long feedback loops make it difficult for medical professionals to monitor their performance. Can we empower them with tools to do so? Doctors today lack visibility on the outcome of the treatment given and rely on intuition, experience or techniques tested in developed countries for care delivery. Such a tool would not only help doctors improve their performance, but also improve the trust equation with their patients.

User Experience
There are three crucial elements for enabling a good user experience:

Data input – Most EHR systems require text input to be typed in by doctors. This makes it difficult to use. Other input techniques for automated data transcription like touch, voice, or other innovative methods for data capture will need to be explored. Additionally, interoperability across all systems and devices will be key in enabling access to all data.

Data interpretation – Sorting through a patient’s health records takes up a substantial amount of time of a physician, especially when the data is unstructured. Developing intelligence to sort the relevant records as per the case in question will significantly enhance the user experience of the product.

Safety and PrivacyAll solutions should ensure complete privacy of patients. This could mean access controls, electronic consent, digital signatures, digital logs, tools for data anonymisation, etc. it might also be important to perform basic verification of users of the platform.

Value Discovery
The value of the platform will increase as more and more physicians become a part of it. For example, an endocrinologist might need to consult a cardiologist in a case of disease progression, or an ENT specialist might need to consult an oncologist to confirm a diagnosis. More importantly, the platform will also drive innovation, i.e., other use cases can be developed on top of it. For example, the expert opinions mentioned above can also be used for consulting patient remotely, pre-authorising claims, forming medical peer review groups, etc. Similarly, working care groups can also simultaneously enrol staff for upskilling (as practised today in an offline setting), and information about treatment outcomes can help guide better research.

Next steps
We remain on a quest to find use-cases for PHR since we believe technology pilots alone would not be enough to drive its adoption. In that context, we are looking for partners to experiment with this in different healthcare domains. If you are interested, please reach out to me at [email protected]!

#1 India’s Health Leapfrog – Towards A Holistic Healthcare Ecosystem

In July 2018, NITI Aayog published a Strategy and Approach document on the National Health Stack. The document underscored the need for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and laid down the technology framework for implementing the Ayushman Bharat programme which is meant to provide UHC to the bottom 500 million of the country. While the Health Stack provides a technological backbone for delivering affordable healthcare to all Indians, we, at iSPIRT, believe that it has the potential to go beyond that and to completely transform the healthcare ecosystem in the country. We are indeed headed for a health leapfrog in India! Over the last few months, we have worked extensively to understand the current challenges in the industry as well as the role and design of individual components of the Health Stack. In this post, we elaborate on the leapfrog that will be enabled by blending this technology with care delivery.

What is the health leapfrog?

Healthcare delivery in India faces multiple challenges today. The doctor-patient ratio in the country is extremely poor, a problem that is further exacerbated by their skewed distribution. Insurance penetration remains low leading to out-of-pocket expenses of over 80% (something that is being addressed by the Ayushman Bharat program). Additionally, the current view on healthcare amongst citizens as well as policymakers is largely around curative care. Preventive care, which is equally important for the health of individuals, is generally overlooked.  

The leapfrog we envision is that of public, precision healthcare. This means that not only would every citizen have access to affordable healthcare, but the care delivered would be holistic (as opposed to symptomatic) and preventive (and not just curative) in nature. This will require a complete redesign of operations, regulations and incentives – a transformation that, we believe, can be enabled by the Health Stack.

How will this leapfrog be enabled by the Health Stack?

At the first level, the Health Stack will enable a seamless flow of information across all stakeholders in the ecosystem, which will help in enhancing trust and decision-making. For example, access to an individual’s claims history helps in better claims management, a patient’s longitudinal health record aids clinical decision-making while information about disease incidence enables better policymaking. This is the role of some of the fundamental Health Stack components, namely, the health registries, personal health records (PHR) and the analytics framework. Of course, it is essential to maintain strict data security and privacy boundaries, which is already considered in the design of the stack, through features like non-repudiable audit logs and electronic consent.

At the second level, the Health Stack will improve cost efficiency of healthcare. For out-of-pocket expenditures to come down, we have to enable healthcare financing (via insurance or assurance schemes) to become more efficient and in particular, the costs of health claims management to reduce. The main costs around claims management relate to eligibility determination, claims processing and fraud detection. An open source coverage and claims platform, a key component of the Health Stack, is meant to deal with these inefficiencies. This component will not only bring down the cost of processing a claim but along with increased access to information about an individual’s health and claims history (level 1), will also enable the creation of personalised, sachet-sized insurance policies.

At the final level, the Health Stack will leverage information and cost efficiencies to make care delivery more holistic in nature. For this, we need a policy engine that creates care policies that are not only personalized in nature but that also incentivize good healthcare practices amongst consumers and providers. We have coined a new term for such policies – “gamifier” policies – since they will be used to gamify health decision-making amongst different stakeholders.

Gamifier policies, if implemented well, can have a transformative impact on the healthcare landscape of the country. We present our first proposal on the design of gamifier policies, We suggest the use of techniques from microeconomics to manage incentives for care providers, and those from behavioural economics to incentivise consumers. We also give examples of policies created by combining different techniques.

 

What’s next?

The success of the policy engine rests on real-world experiments around policies and in the document we lay down the contours of an experimentation framework for driving these experiments. The role of the regulator will be key in implementing this experimentation framework: in standardizing the policy language, in auditing policies and in ensuring the privacy-preserving exchange of data derived from different policy experiments. Creating the framework is an extensive exercise and requires engagement with economists as well as computer scientists. We invite people with expertise in either of these areas to join us on this journey and help us sharpen our thinking around it.

Do you wish to volunteer?

Please read our volunteer handbook and fill out this Google form if you’re interested in joining us in our effort to develop the design of Health Stack further and to take us closer to the goal of achieving universal and holistic healthcare in India!

Update: Our volunteer, Saurabh Panjawani, author of gamifier policies, recently gave a talk at ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)/MSR (Microsoft Research) India’s AI Summit in IIT Madras! Please view the talk here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/video/gamifier-policies-a-tool-for-creating-a-holistic-healthcare-ecosystem/

 

Building for Bharat – A Bharat Inclusion Initiative

Bharat Inclusion Initiative seeks to equip entrepreneurs with the right knowledge, skills and tools they need to solve some of the toughest problems of India in a scalable manner using technology. While Bharat Inclusion Research Fellows are working on some of the most interesting studies, another important source of knowledge is thought leaders and domain experts who have been there and done that. In this three-part video series, we have Dr Pramod Varma, the Chief Architect of Aadhaar, providing his perspective on how entrepreneurs can go about building solutions for Bharat.

Part 1: The Key Construct

What are Bharat’s unique attributes? Its needs and aspirations? With data becoming one of Bharat’s key assets, how can entrepreneurs leverage it to provide solutions that matter? Watch the video to know some answers to these questions and much more.

Part 2: The Journey So Far

How to leverage the opportunity made available through Data empowerment? Know how Aadhaar, India’s biometric ID, has fundamentally changed the economics of reaching the poor. Understand how the Aadhaar platform has aided in building further platforms of IndiaStack such as eSign and Digilocker which have further reduced cost and increased trust at scale. The video rounds off with another uniquely Indian platform — Unified Payment Interface (UPI).

Part 3: Exciting Times Ahead

Reimagine solutions. With the newer domain, specific stacks being built, learn how even seemingly unrelated domains can use these platforms to offer innovative solutions. With GST and BBPS already in place, and more being built around transport (ETC), National Health Stack, Diksha and Drone Stack it has been never this good for entrepreneurs crafting solutions for Bharat. Watch the video to understand how.

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What is Bharat Inclusion Initiative?

Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII) is an incubator platform at CIIE that provides entrepreneurs with the domain knowledge, training, financial support, mentorship, and market access they need to bring inclusive, for-profit-business to life. BII’s core design is to promote technology-driven entrepreneurship towards the delivery of affordable services to the Bharat Segment- the poorest 200 million households in India who survive on less than $5 per person a day through programs, fellowships, and funding where possible.

The program focuses on solutions leveraging technology, especially the India Stack. It integrates financial inclusion research with entrepreneurship and training to transform these solutions into scalable, viable and high impact businesses.  Keen on partnering with entrepreneurs who are driven by building next-generation digital services for India. Reach out to us at bharatinclus[email protected] or ask your questions in the comments section below.

Please note: The above information was first published by Bharat Inclusion Fellows here: https://medium.com/bharatinclusion/building-for-bharat-df8b12867271