• The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that healthcare delivery can be provided digitally.
  • In order to ensure access for everyone, digital healthcare delivery has to be equitable, responsible and mobile.
  • The future of digital health lies in access and adoption.
  • Connected care can bring assistance to the underserved and unserved.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a digital shift in healthcare delivery that was a long time coming. Thanks to a wave of technologies, the idea of assisting people – no matter their location – became a reality.

The digital connection between clinicians and patients requires new private-public partnerships to facilitate the tech, and new ideas to help those we serve. But the pandemic also revealed the gap between those who could access connected care, and those who could not.

In response to a new kind of digital health inequity, Apollo Hospitals and Jefferson Health launched initiatives to bridge gaps and ensure that technology is applied to counter health disparities rather than exacerbate them.

Riding the wave of digital transformation in healthcare

The pandemic made clear that broadband access is now a ‘social determinant of health’. Without meaningful access to broadband, individuals are excluded from the advances of connected care. For many, this means a lack of access to clinical care itself.

We urgently need to place human beings at the centre of the rapidly growing digital health business. Estimates show that as much as $1.5 trillion is being invested globally by private equity and venture capital into a massive array of new products and services. As healthcare providers, we believe that we have a responsibility to ensure all individuals can benefit from this mode of keeping people healthy and aiding them when they are sick.

We understand the potential impact of digital healthcare delivery, so together with the EDISON Alliance, we developed a series of principles that could guide equity and inclusion in digitalized healthcare.

digital, COVID-19, EDISON Alliance

EDISON Alliance: What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?

COVID-19 has exposed digital inequities globally and exacerbated the digital divide. Most of the world lives in areas covered by a mobile broadband network, yet more than one-third (2.9 billion people) are still offline. Cost, not coverage, is the barrier to connectivity.

At The Davos Agenda 2021, the World Economic Forum launched the EDISON Alliance, the first cross-sector alliance to accelerate digital inclusion and connect critical sectors of the economy.

Through the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, the EDISON Alliance aims to improve 1 billion lives globally through affordable and accessible digital solutions across healthcare, financial services and education by 2025.

Read more about the EDISON Alliance’s work in our Impact Story.

Guiding the way to digital health inclusion

The Shared Guiding Principles for Digital Health Inclusion are intended as a series of questions that partners can ask themselves as they design digital health products and services. They are based on our belief that the heart of ethics is to ask the tough questions first, at an early stage in product or partnership development.

The guiding principles prompt healthcare partners to ask themselves:

  • Are we inclusive by design, prioritizing equity and access?
  • Have we built a foundation of trust by putting ethics first?
  • Have we allowed individuals as ‘health citizens’ to connect their data and integrate their care across physicians, clinics and hospitals?
  • Have we built a priority around the health of women and girls, who have been too often left out of digital health services?
  • Have we created products and services that are sustainable and long-lasting?
  • Have we ensured security and privacy while using data to create evidence-based interventions?
  • Have we worked to support effective regulation while generating value for society?
Digital health inclusion
Digital health inclusion: a gamechanger for access to healthcare

Assessing the future of healthcare

In India, there isn’t enough money to build a traditional hospital-based system of care for everyone. In the United States, the traditional hospital based system is failing to bridge the gaps of health disparities. For both countries, the future depends on a platform for healthcare at any address. At Apollo Hospitals and Jefferson Health, we agreed that we needed to shift the locus of primary care and prevention to the home, and that the technological tools are now available to accomplish this.

Together, we have worked hard on two issues that will frame the future of digital health: access and adoption. The first issue, access, is very clear for the half of the world’s population that does not have access to broadband connectivity. The second issue, adoption, is an issue that centres around trust – how we ensure responsible, sustainable services that build trust and therefore adoption.

In India, Apollo Hospitals has launched a unique personalized proactive health management programme specially designed to help predict risk, prevent premature health events, and overcome chronic lifestyle diseases. The 3-year healthcare management programme has been created based on 22 million health checks, building on Apollo's pioneering efforts in preventive care for over 37 years. This plan is primary care based, and able to mitigate emergency care and provide assistance for those who are immobile.

In Philadelphia, Jefferson Health has launched its Centre for Connected Care to be a leader in research studies around the barriers to connected care. The centre will host the first US ‘consensus conference’ for research in telehealth in 2022. Already, the centre has found that while language and income are barriers against the adoption of digital health services, the greatest barrier remains trust.

Shared principles for digital health inclusion
Shared principles for digital health inclusion

Delivering connected care for everyone

At the onset of COVID-19, Apollo Hospitals Group launched its digital platform – Apollo 24/7 – to empower people at home to take charge of their health. Built with the core belief that ‘expertise is for everyone’, the platform provided round the clock access to all its 7,500 plus doctors from over 50 specialties spread across the entire country to make quality healthcare accessible to everyone.

Connected care offers tremendous opportunities to the communities we serve. It can bring assistance to the unserved and underserved. It can help individuals age successfully at home. It can develop models of prevention based on monitoring of pre disease markers.

Most importantly, shifting the locus of healthcare to the home democratizes healthcare. It forces the healthcare system to account for family dynamics and social resources. And it gives people the opportunity to thrive and be happy without healthcare delivery getting in the way.

Many public-private partnerships and businesses will develop because of the digital tools of connected care. We urge that this transformation remain responsible, equitable, and inclusive.