When there is already quite a good number of hospitals in the country and more are being built both in the public and private sectors, we are witnessing the contrasting sight of an increasing number of patients going abroad for treatment every year. What it makes evident is that something is missing from our prevailing health service delivery regime which cannot be addressed simply by a quantitative increase in the number of hospitals. Since the traditional approach to address this missing link has so far proved inadequate, the so-called health-tech start-ups have appeared on the scene with their novel ideas and packages of health service to address it. Making use of the information and communication technology (ICT), this new genre of healthcare providers are trying to make the service more efficient and accessible in a hassle-free and cost-effective manner. They also aim to increase their beneficiaries' awareness about the types of healthcare service available in the market and help them to make an informed choice. However, each such health-tech entity has its own philosophy, the problem areas it gives priority to and the solutions it offers.
Leaders of some health-tech companies as well as local and international experts in this field at a recent event in the city in partnership with this paper tried to shed light on the critical areas of healthcare needs in Bangladesh, ways to address those and the challenges facing the health-tech companies in this regard. Of the challenges, the most important one is to decide what should be the starting point of all such efforts. Needless to say, primary health care at the community level comes first and to address it the thrust must be on preventive health care, rather than the curative one. It may be noted at this point that our traditional public and private health care infrastructures are geared mainly to providing curative healthcare to the people. That, in other words, is to say that the focus of this service is more on curing the patient of the disease, rather than preventing the disease from attacking its victim in the first place.
The health-tech companies can come in a big way with their various tools like electronic recording system (of health-related data and medical history of the beneficiary), video-conferencing, telemedicine, portal technology (online facility for the physician and the patient to interact), electronic health monitoring devices and so on to work in this high priority area, especially among the rural communities. This is also the area with its ever-widening rural-urban healthcare gap that should get serious attention, if the slogan of ensuring 'inclusive healthcare' raised by many health-tech companies is to be a reality. Given that Bangladesh has a low 'health professional' versus 'population' ratio (only 6 physicians, nurses and midwifes per 10,000 people), the health-tech ventures can play an important role by way of enabling the suffering public to get the service they need from health care professionals in the right time at the right place at an affordable cost.
In essence, the health-tech start-ups, however do need to have a framework of policy guidelines and set some standards to operate and practice their trade. That would help them to avoid any overlap and unhealthy competition, keep updated about developments in the sector, create a healthy environment of mutual cooperation and information sharing and ensure security of beneficiaries' medical records. All this can help reduce the prevailing trust gap between health service providers and the recipient public.