How will common man benefit from NDHM? NHA CEO Indu Bhushan explains [Interview]

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Updated: Sep 03, 2020 12:42 PM

National Digital Health Mission: With NDHM implementation, access to verified information will be greatly enhanced. Citizens will be able to access details concerning healthcare facilities – location, specialities treated, services provided, operational hours etc., says NHA CEO Indu Bhushan.

National Health Authority CEO Indu Bhushan. National Health Authority CEO Indu Bhushan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) on Independence Day 2020. Under NDHM, a unique health ID will be provided to every Indian. After Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY, the new mission is expected to further revolutionize healthcare in the country and make health services accessible to the common man in a big way. Not just this, NDHM is also expected to help in filtering out fake healthcare professionals, according to Dr indu Bhushan, CEO, National Health Authority.

In an interview with FE Online, Bhushan shares how NDHM will help the common man and everything else you need to know about the mission:

NDHM is said to revolutionize healthcare in India. According to you, how is this going to happen?

The National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) is a focused effort for developing a robust digital health eco-system in India. The NDHM leverages the strong public digital infrastructure—including that related to Aadhaar, Unified Payments Interface and wide reach of the Internet and mobile phones (JAM trinity) for establishing the building blocks. Through the implementation of NDHM, patients will be able to:

  • Securely store and access their medical records (such as prescriptions, diagnostic reports, discharge summaries), and share them with health care providers to ensure appropriate treatment and follow-up.
  • Access more accurate information on health facilities and providers
  • Use services remotely using tele-consultation and e-pharmacy

Similarly, health care professionals across disciplines will have better access to patient’s medical history (with the necessary consent) for prescribing more appropriate and effective health interventions. The integrated ecosystem will also enable better continuum of care. NDHM will help digitize the claims process and faster receipt of reimbursement. This will enhance the overall ease of providing services amongst the health care providers.

At the same time, policy makers and programme managers shall have better access to data, enabling more informed decision making by the Government. Better quality of macro and micro-level data shall enable advanced analytics, usage of health-biomarkers and better preventive healthcare. It shall also enable geography and demography-based monitoring and appropriate decision making. It will ensure designing of more effective policies and strengthen implementation of current programmes and policies.

Finally, researchers will greatly benefit from the availability of such aggregated information as they will be able to study and evaluate the effectiveness of various programmes and interventions. NDHM would facilitate a comprehensive feedback loop between researchers, authorities, and providers.

How the common man is going to benefit from NDHM?

Under the existing systems, a ‘common man’ does not have reliable or easy access to the following:

  • All his/her medical records on a common electronic platform
  • Information about the nearby hospitals, doctors and labs
  • Knowledge about qualification of the doctor
  • Teleconsultation facility
  • Easy supply of medicines

With NDHM, the above issues will get addressed. Every single citizen can voluntarily generate his/her health ID. Through the health ID, the citizen can securely store and access their medical records (such as prescriptions, diagnostic reports and discharge summaries) in the Personal Health Records (PHR) application. A citizen, after providing the necessary consent, can share the medical records with health care providers to ensure appropriate and effective diagnosis and treatment. Further, a citizen will be able to access verified information about the doctors and healthcare facilities through digital registries created by NDHM. At the same time, the citizen will be able to leverage various third-party services which shall be built on top of the digital health infrastructure created by NDHM.

Access to quality healthcare is a problem across India, especially in rural areas. In what way, is NDHM going to address this problem?

NDHM will enhance the quality of healthcare by improving availability of past medical records and history to treating doctors, facilitating portability of data, enhancing the accountability of healthcare providers and increasing availability of services through telemedicine. Access to quality healthcare is a challenge in rural areas because of sparse presence of healthcare facilities and unavailability of verified information concerning healthcare providers. Further, in a few rural areas, digital connectivity is also a challenge.

With NDHM implementation, access to verified information will be greatly enhanced. Citizens will be able to access details concerning healthcare facilities – location, specialties treated, services provided, operational hours etc. Through the digi-doctor repository, citizens will be able to view healthcare professionals with verified credentials. This will drastically help in filtering out healthcare professionals with fake credentials.

In our current pilot, we are implementing NDHM in 6 Union Territories—Puducherry, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Ladakh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Daman and Diu, and Lakshadweep. The selected UTs comprise difficult terrains wherein connectivity is a challenge. Through this pilot, we are taking constant feedback on the NDHM developed core modules and improving the overall system. At the same time, we are undertaking extensive capacity building and awareness building to build adequate digital literacy, especially in rural areas.

NDHM will also increase access to health services by developing a robust framework for telemedicine.

It has been reported that under NDHM, every citizen will get a unique health ID. Will this ID be different from Aadhaar? Or, will it be linked to Aadhaar?

The health ID is different from the AADHAAR. A citizen can voluntarily participate in the NDHM by generating hei/her health ID. A citizen can use his/her AADHAAR for generating health ID.

How long will it take for the complete nation-wide rollout of NDHM? Also, please explain the process through which people will be added to the mission.

Currently, 4 core modules – health ID, health facility registry, digi-doctor and personal health records & electronic medical record have been made live for the pilot. The NDHM pilot is ongoing in 6 UTs – Puducherry, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Ladakh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Daman and Diu, and Lakshadweep. Through this pilot, we are taking constant feedback on the NDHM developed core modules and improving the overall system.

Going forward, we shall be expanding the implementation to States and remaining UTs. As mentioned before, we are undertaking extensive awareness building across various stakeholders to ensure maximum participation and rapid adoption. It is difficult to estimate the time for nation-wide roll out. It will depend on the feedback that we receive during the pilot.

If NDHM had been launched, say 5-10 years ago. How would it have helped us in battling the current COVID-19 pandemic?

NDHM would have facilitated surveillance, contact tracing, follow up and treatment of COIVD-19.

Technology has connected the globe in ways that we never thought was possible. With the core modules of NDHM, the health system becomes more connected and efficient. NDHM can play an important role in pandemic management. With the aggregated and anonymized data, the policy makers can assess the geographical disease burden as well as track the spread of an infection. This can drastically help in preparing the governments for rapid resource mobilization. Further, through the different digital registries, governments can quickly sensitize and train the healthcare providers on pandemic.

The citizens can make better health-seeking decisions through accessing verified and dynamic information on the status of healthcare providers. At the same time, the ecosystem shall benefit from the provision of multiple innovative third-party services which can be built on top of NDHM. Tele-medicine and e-pharmacy would bring healthcare services to people’s home when they do not or cannot go out. These services can greatly help in a more effective response to a pandemic.

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