Nitin Das VP, vHealth, Aetna explains that there are several underlying reasons for the lack of health literacy in the country. Overuse of traditional therapies, illiteracy, poor access to health care or just plain ignorance top the list
With one of the largest and most diverse populations in the world, access to healthcare has been a big challenge for India. The situation has improved slightly in recent years since the government has focused on improving health infrastructure and encouraging innovative technologies to improve access.
Apart from the low penetration of medical services, low health literacy is another serious challenge for the country’s health sector. A major repercussion is that people are unable to understand the symptoms of a disease occurring in their body, and even if they become aware of the symptoms, they have no idea what to do or who to call. contact for professional help.
Main reasons for low health literacy
There are several underlying reasons for the lack of health literacy in the country. Excessive use of traditional therapies, illiteracy, poor access to health care or simply ignorance top the list.
The Indian government has tried health literacy programs on different platforms in the past, but its audience has been limited. Programs like “Jaan hai to Jahan hai” aired on Doordarshan for a very long time, but lacked mass viewership to make an impact.
In rural areas, several state governments run health awareness campaigns through government schools or primary health centers or Anganwadi Kendras, where staff travel from village to village to spread knowledge. in health and hygiene. Due to limited budgets, resources and scale, these programs are not able to deliver the desired results.
The Internet of Things is a game-changer
The Internet has been the most exciting human invention so far, bringing with it the information and communication revolution. India has one of the deepest broadband internet penetrations and the largest number of smartphone users in the world. The Internet and the IoT, I believe, may therefore prove to be the ultimate game-changer in health literacy for the following reasons:
Stay informed on the go: Technology is helping people stay up to date with health-related news and information, aggregated across the world. Smartphone apps keep the user informed of the latest trends in health care and new developments in disease management. During COVID, when the whole world was under lockdown, internet and broadcast content helped people stay up to date on precautions and practices through news, blogs and videos floating across different platforms. In fact, the government has effectively used apps like Arogyasetu & CoWin to reach people and inform them about nearby infected people, vaccine availability, COVID precautions, etc.
Health monitoring: Many apps for smartphones and wearable devices like smartwatches help people monitor their health and send alerts in case of unusual health readings. These devices are used by caregivers and doctors to monitor the health of patients, especially the chronically ill or the elderly, helping them to provide more accurate and effective treatment.
Understanding the Symptoms: A majority of Internet users use the power of search engines to research and read the symptoms that appear or prevail in their body. Various smartphone apps contain detailed descriptions of various symptoms and the underlying disease. Several AI and ML-powered apps can even analyze images of affected body parts, provide a description, and suggest simple corrective actions or first aid.
The IoT can undoubtedly be a game changer for health literacy by opening up the information superhighway to everyone who has access to the internet. Technology, however, can only provide the means to access information, and it is essential for government as well as private healthcare providers to work in harmony and play their part in ensuring that information is constantly checked and sanitized before it reaches public platforms. Proactive access to these channels should be encouraged or incentivized to ensure that more and more people view the content. Open-source mobile platforms like Arogya Setu, having verified preventive and primary care practices, can help people easily access health information at their convenience.
Policies regarding the communication of health-related information and practices through government and private channels can be written to improve access to information. Education institutes can include compulsory modules on health and hygiene to train the next generation in healthy living, who in turn can teach the elderly in their household. Institutes, as well as the financial power of companies in CSR, can also equip local PHC and Anganwadi workers with the necessary technology and digital modules on general hygiene awareness, especially for women and men. children who do not go to school. These modules can be delivered in person using smart graphics to maintain a high level of interest. This can significantly reduce the effort of handling and maintaining books and other paper media and reduce the hassle of updating content. Additionally, since there are restrictions on advertising alcohol or tobacco products, regulating the promotion of junk food or unhealthy habits on public platforms can be a good way to promote health literacy. Needless to say, health literacy is an important step for India to become a global leader in health infrastructure.