At a recent roundtable event “Digital Toolkits for Medical Projects”, the Russian Ministry for Economic Development announced that it was considering legislative measures to facilitate the testing of new technologies in healthcare. “This experimental regime for telemedicine and prescriptions will increase the availability of consultations for patients and increase the speed of medical care without the need to personally visit doctors,” said Deputy Minister Vladislav Fedulov, emphasising that this was particularly important during a pandemic.
The announcement comes as growing demand for fast and convenient service has transformed the way that Russian businesses operate, driving a shift online and a craze for near-instantaneous service. The latest sector to be disrupted by this trend is healthcare, where telemedicine and online ecosystems are becoming increasingly dominant.
The convenience trend
As Russian consumers get increasingly accustomed to receiving services from the comfort of their homes, industries have had to adapt to make their offerings as convenient as possible. Medicine is no exception.
SmartMed, the app of Russia’s largest private healthcare provider Medsi, has a fully digital client path. Almost everything that patients can do in a clinic they can also do online: from selecting a preferred clinic and doctor (there are more than 850 to choose from) to saving their medical history, the results of their medical tests, and their prescriptions on the app. Clients can also receive QR-codes for picking up medicine from the pharmacy, receive online consultations or even call doctors to their house. Since its launch in 2018, the app has garnered more than 1mn downloads.
Medsi is seeing demand for this sort of convenience grow exponentially. The growth of active users of its app constituted 225% year on year in 2021. And whereas only 20% of patients registered for in-person appointments through the SmartMed app in 2020, more than 50% did so in 2021. EMC has observed the same increase in uptake, with 860% growth in the number of telemedicine appointments since the start of the pandemic.
Accurate medical information is in high demand these days. Clients want a trusted provider, rather than trawling through endless google search results with varying degrees of credibility.
Insurance company Renaissance Insurance took that on board while pushing the notion of a complete digital offering to its extreme. It developed an e-health ecosystem where customers can find not only medical insurance but also verified information on health in the form of podcasts and articles, as well as video appointments and prescription deliveries by couriers. Digitalisation runs through Renaissance Insurance’s entire value chain, including medtech startup Budu, which was launched with the aim of capitalising on Russia’s growing digital health services segment.
Ahead of the (infection) curve
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to rage, more people are turning to preventative healthcare solutions (in addition to curative ones) as a way to contain the spread of disease. Online healthcare platforms allow users to regularly monitor their condition, rather than waiting until they have discernible symptoms before seeking help.
The European Medical Centre (EMC), one of Russia’s biggest private healthcare providers, developed the idea of “360˚ health” at the end of 2019. It has since created an online platform that helps guide patients through every step of a long, active and healthy life.
Although online consultations play a big part, doctors can’t do everything using just a phone camera. Instead, EMC decided to build a “multi-platform digital hospital”, where everything – from diagnostics and consultations to medicine delivery and post-care treatment – could be managed online.
EMC’s new site allows users to perform medical exams using remote diagnostics systems like TytoCare with the supervision of a medical professional online. By reading a variety of statistics like blood oxygen levels, body temperature and heart rate, patients can catch or monitor chronic diseases more quickly.
EMC also uses Zebramed technology, which allows medical visualisation of computer vision to identify problems early on. The system also sets doctors’ tasks automatically after recognising abnormalities on scans. With one doctor leading each patient’s case, there is a central contact point and decision maker, which further speeds up the process.
The question for consumers and investors alike is where the trend for accessible medical care will take the industry next. The secret to success will likely include optimising the client experience and integrating new dynamic technologies into existing platforms.
In part, this means gathering large amounts of client feedback. In addition to email questionnaires and a personal account feedback functionality on its app and website, EMC also allows direct feedback to its CEO via the company site.
Another likely direction of development will be the incorporation of big data solutions. EMC is working on a predictive system which can use big data and AI to make medical decisions, and which has the potential to digitalise up to 60% of medical files. Medsi is also developing AI use for healthy lifestyle services together with partners.
Regulations can be a significant facilitator of the development of anything digital. It is therefore good news for the healthcare sector that the Russian Ministry for Economic Development is working on a regime to relax legislation around the creation and testing of new technologies, aiming to make Russia’s medtech solutions as competitive as possible among developed markets. As the digital revolution spreads across emerging markets, Russia’s healthcare sector looks set to receive a welcome dose of innovation.
This article first appeared in New Economy Observer (NEO), a digital publication covering the intersection between finance and social responsibility, with a special focus on emerging markets. It offers news and analysis on major issues shaping the new global economy, including climate change and renewable energy, sustainable development, e-commerce and tech innovation, and the future of work.