Budget 2021: Digital Health needs right policy push for evolving new care models

December 29, 2020 4:54 PM

Union Budget of India 2021 Healthcare expectations: Cohesive Partnerships and a lower tax slab would help in creating a robust digital health ecosystem in the country

Healthcare Budget 2021 Expectations, Budget 2021 Expectations for healthcareSuch incentives or policy push would provide much-needed momentum to this critical segment.

By Rajiv Mishra

Union Budget 2021-22 Expectations for Healthcare: The upcoming 2020-21 Union Budget has the potential of being a game-changer for the Indian Healthcare Sector. Technology has already proved its mettle during the pandemic and digital health. Be it efficient management of COVID-19 and vaccination or achieving the goal of Universal Health Coverage, Digital Health would be great enablers with the right policy push.

The Budget 2020-21 needs to focus on the expansion of digital healthcare that has great potential to make healthcare more affordable and accessible by using technology to reach out the last mile. In the areas of primary and secondary care, diagnostics-Imaging, vaccination, and standardization of services digital health plays a critical role. For only these areas but now digital health caters to the entire continuum of care, starting from admission to discharge and post-discharge period too.

The Centre had announced a very ambitious National Health Policy in 2017 and it envisaged doubling of public spending in the health sector from 1.15 % of the GDP to 2.5% by 2025. However, the budgetary allocations for health in 2018-19 and 2019-20 only witnessed a marginal increase (nearly 5%). The need to strengthen our healthcare infrastructure including digital health has been fortified with the covid-19 crisis. The healthcare sector expects the Government to start spending an extra 0.5% of GDP every year on health for the next five years.

The COVID-19 crisis taught a great lesson and spending in the sector has been witnessing a surge that was never there. Year on Year India used to spend less than even some of our neighbouring countries. COVID-19 has brought to the forefront the need to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure in India. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technological disruptions and it has also given momentum to the usage of digital solutions as a viable option to conventional care delivery systems.

Hence, India desperately needs a unique solution especially higher public spending to deal with its healthcare sector challenges, and digital technology offers one of the most efficient solutions to this. Digital solutions would certainly help in creating a comprehensive and integrated healthcare ecosystem in the country and support the patients to get access to high-quality and cost-effective care.

The government has already made significant progress in this journey and in August 2020, the Prime Minister had announced the launch of the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) that aims to create a robust digital health ecosystem. Catalyzing a shared digital infrastructure is the need of the hour and a policy push to it under the Mission is strongly recommended. Such an infrastructure would help us in leveraging both public and private enterprises to provide innovative solutions. For a robust digital health ecosystem, cohesive partnerships among private and public sector players are needed. The government also needs to collaborate with industry players to make policies more comprehensive and universal.

With the implementation of the Mission, it would also be prudent to set up an autonomous Not-For-Profit, Non-Government body- similar to industry bodies like CII and FICCI- for digital healthcare. The government should take initiative in setting up such a dedicated organisation that would work on global, regional, and industry agendas for digital healthcare.

With improved health outcomes there will be an increase in productivity which will lead to an ‘additional benefit of USD 200-250 billion to India’s GDP’ as estimated by the BCG in its recent report on Digital Health. “This value will accrue as a result of three big shifts- Patient Trust, Diagnosis Rate, and the rising demand for health insurance products,” it says.

New care models will surely evolve. Digital disruption would enable and empower caregivers in several ways. They will be fully informed about patients’ needs and a well-coordinated care continuum would make the service patient-centric. Analytics on aggregated and anonymized data will allow population-wide co-relation between clinician advice and health outcomes. Over time, the aggregated data will also help in standardizing clinical protocols, improving care quality.

Digital Health in the country is mainly being driven by health-tech companies and startups. A right policy push would pave the way for a new and robust digital health ecosystem. The health-tech community would be expecting a rational policy framework to develop sustainable business models. Healthcare leaders have strongly recommended the government to set up a Digital Health or Medical Innovation Fund as it would go a long way to meet the funding requirements for the segment.

Entrepreneurship can be nurtured by spending on incubating new businesses, providing access to business, tech, and commercialization. In view of the increasing role and contribution of digital health, health-tech companies and service providers would be expecting a lower tax slab on their products, services, and solutions. Such incentives or policy push would provide much-needed momentum to this critical segment. Overall, digital health can transform the way India manages its healthcare delivery systems.

(The author is President (APAC Region), DaytoDay Health (DTDHI), Views expressed are personal.)

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