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World Health Day: Keeping the doctor away

On the occasion of World Health Day, the CEO and co-founder of health-tech company Practo writes about the importance of diet in preventing hospital visits

Eating a balanced diet is preferable to fixing the effects of poor nutrition
Eating a balanced diet is preferable to fixing the effects of poor nutrition (Istockphoto)

“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

~ Ayurveda

Long before the pandemic made us sit up and take notice of what we eat to strengthen our immune system, the tenets of Ayurveda were promoting just that. Eating food that suits our constitution and leading a healthy lifestyle are important for our overall well-being. However, even as a sizable proportion of India’s population still struggles to put meals on the table, the irony is that millions of people in the country are suffering because of the food they eat. The growing burden of chronic diseases on the healthcare system is a glaring example of that. Early diagnosis and continuous access to specialist care is key to tackle this, and for that we need technology.

The importance of a healthy diet and good nutrition to ensure people’s well-being across age-groups cannot be emphasized enough. The right kind of food is important for children’s optimal growth and development, while keeping a check on the risk of serious ailments. Healthy eating also helps adults prevent chronic diseases and even prevent complications.

According to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 60% of premature deaths in India can be linked to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes. The National Non-Communicable Disease Monitoring Survey (NNMS) recently found that two in five adults had three or more risk factors for NCDs.

Meanwhile, Practo insights conclude that the lifestyle and dietary habits of people in different states/cities have a distinct impact on their health. For instance, Chennai was among the cities that saw the maximum number of queries for diabetes, while Mumbai topped in queries related to gastroenterology. Furthermore, 21% of queries regarding cholesterol came from people in Kerala, and Bengaluru attributed to 18% of the total number of queries for obesity.

The impact of chronic ailments can be altered by watching what we eat. Diabetes, for instance, can be managed and eventually reversed by better food intake and by maintaining an optimal diet. But before we get to this reversal stage, we need to efficiently manage the symptoms of these diseases. And technology can help us do both.

Government initiatives like the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) are designed to cater to these requirements by forming a network of specialist care that is both accessible and affordable. Healthcare today is more value-based and patient-centric than ever before. It is more personalized, data-focussed, and thus easier to manage.

Advanced digital healthcare delivery systems that include telemedicine, diagnostics and medicine delivery is a step into the future. Thanks to technology, we can now access these services from the comforts of our home. Testing helps to identify the symptoms of NCDs in a much faster way. And patients are now getting tested more easily and routinely. Timely health check-ups can go a long way in preventing and managing chronic diseases, while required doses of medicines can be delivered at your doorstep. Additionally, it can also be ensured that those living in remote locations are not deprived of these services.

While technology can only enable us to manage the symptoms and complications of chronic diseases in an efficient way, the secret to a sound physical condition lies in understanding the science of healthy eating. Maintaining a healthy diet as well as getting enough physical activity and sleep will ensure that we do not have to solely depend on a doctor’s prescription. And while we still cope with the complications of chronic diseases, we’ll need more conscious deliberation to equip healthcare for the digital age, to help provide care for patients anytime, anywhere. And more importantly, we should stop treating the effects of food with medicine.

Shashank ND is the CEO and co-founder of Practo

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