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January 18, 2018
Living well with the power of technology
By: Sanjay Podder and Nataraj Kuntagod

If your New Year’s resolution is to shed that extra weight, a simple Google search on top fitness apps can help you kickstart your fitness journey! With noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart diseases and cancer on the rise globally, people are increasingly aware of the importance of being physically and mentally fit. Living well to live long, indeed, is the mantra to lead a healthy and happy life and, more importantly, to minimize medical costs. NCDs require proactive and prolonged treatment—a challenge for the traditionally illness-centered healthcare system. As a result, the global healthcare industry is witnessing a much-needed shift from managing illness to promoting wellness and preventive health services.

#TechInnovation is driving a much-needed shift in #healthcare – Accenture’s @poddersanjay & Nataraj Kuntagod

 
 

However, the healthcare industry alone cannot tackle the growing impact of NCDs. It requires a larger ecosystem—involving governments, corporations and the community—to work synergistically for creating a wellness-led healthcare system. A living example of this ecosystem at play is a major city in the United States that has more than doubled property taxes to build a new-age healthcare system focused on wellness. It is using a state-of-the-art health informatics infrastructure to monitor public health and prevent illness by providing people access to clean air, fresh food, employment opportunities and much more. Also, the city administration is engaging with local community workers to ensure last-mile healthcare delivery.

In several growth markets as well, governments are running community health programs to provide basic healthcare and preventive care facilities to the underserved. India, for example, has developed a network of 850,000 ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers who act as health educators and promoters in their communities.

Touched by technology: Covering the “last-mile” in healthcare

Today, technology is playing a leading role in expanding the reach and impact of healthcare programs such as ASHA. For example, Accenture Labs in India is working with MAYA Health, an NGO active in the social transformation space, to create a viable business model for delivering last-mile impact in healthcare service delivery. We are enabling a “gig economy” through an innovative technology platform that is helping establish a network of empowered micro health entrepreneurs (health navigators) and local healthcare providers including government-run hospitals, private nursing homes and diagnostic centers.

The digital platform is delivering preventive and promotive services to rural and semi-urban communities for diabetes, hypertension, hygiene, nutrition and vision care management, among other NCDs. Harnessing new technology advances, we have developed machine learning models to create personalized wellness interventions. The Accenture team has conducted a pilot with Maya Health for more than 600 people in a village in Karnataka, India, to explore how a strong network of local micro entrepreneurs can help build a sustainable wellness ecosystem in the rural context for low- and medium-income countries. Today, more than 75 percent of people from this cohort—who were suffering from hypertension and diabetes—are benefitting a great deal from the wellness platform.

The smart health navigator app in action

Health navigators use a smart application to conduct a baseline survey for examining a community’s disease patterns. This data helps in planning the number of health navigators and healthcare partners required in an area. A favorable “profit per transaction minute” that offers an optimal return on investment and return on time is determined to motivate the health navigators and sustain a large-scale rollout of healthcare programs.

Maya Health Navigator App

The platform leverages blockchain and cashless transactions via a unified payment interface (UPI) to connect the extended ecosystems of partners. The blockchain becomes the single source of truth for the partners to gather information about an event that has occurred during a certain time period, and accordingly, an automated micro payment request is generated. Once validated by the partner, the payment is made electronically to the health navigator. For example, a health food supplement manufacturer may pay the health navigator US$1 for every patient who is tested for diabetes or a local government health department may offer an incentive for every health test done at the door step of citizens. Similarly, multiple business partners can be onboarded and different incentive schemes can be introduced. These micro revenue streams motivate and provide livelihood to the local health navigators and help expand the reach and impact of health services.

From a healthy “I” to a healthier “We”

Leading-edge technologies such as AI and machine learning, wearables, Internet of Things, blockchain, interoperable health systems and big data analytics hold enormous potential to revolutionize healthcare and enable a smooth transition from a fee-for-service to fee-for-value model. Technology innovations such as the health navigator app can go a long way in building healthier communities by ensuring last-mile access to basic affordable preventive healthcare, products and referral services. So, while fitness apps help you keep your new year’s resolutions, we can count on technology to play a decisive role in delivering on the promise of greater social good for larger communities!

In our next blog post in this series, we will discuss how technology can enable peer coaching at scale for better maternal health outcomes in underserved communities.

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