National Digital Health Mission: India’s healthcare takes a digital leap with NDHM

Updated: Aug 20, 2020 11:14 AM

In the backdrop of the pandemic, Prime Minster Narnedra Modi, too, made an announcement on Independence Day about launching the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) that would have cascading effect on Indian healthcare.

National Digital Health Mission, india healthcare, NDHM, COVID-19, Unique Health ID,Digital healthcare platforms, Narnedra Modi, health newsAs per the government’s programme, NDHM will have a unique health ID for every Indian citizen, digitized health records and registry of doctors and health facilities. (Representational image)

By Dr. Harshit Jain

The year 2020 drove home the importance of digital technologies as world went berserk when COVID-19 struck. For healthcare, it scripted a whole new chapter. Digital healthcare platforms that were struggling to make a mark suddenly gained exceptional status and found unequivocal support from respective governments. This was long due. Yet, it took a devasting virus attack to underscore the enormous potential of digital healthcare.

In the backdrop of the pandemic, Prime Minster Narnedra Modi, too, made an announcement on Independence Day about launching the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) that would have cascading effect on Indian healthcare.

For a country with a massive population of 1.3 billion, the digital initiative will go a long way in providing to the people better access to healthcare. As per the government’s programme, NDHM will have a unique health ID for every Indian citizen, digitized health records and registry of doctors and health facilities.

The Digital Ecosystem: What Does It Imply?

The nuances of NDHM points to four crucial aspects:

1. Patient is supreme: With the unique health ID, the government has provided power in the hands of the patients, making them the focal point of its initiative. Now, patients, upon their willingness, could create a Unique Health ID, a mandatory step if they wish to keep their health records in the digital format to gain universal access to them. With the unique ID, a patient could be able to store digitally information relating to medical conditions, physicians consulted, prescriptions, diagnostic reports and discharge summaries. While the government hasn’t made it mandatory for people to opt for the Health ID, it has made sure that once a patient chooses to do so, all of his data would only be accessible when he would authorise for the same. In devising the Health ID, health authorities have kept in mind easing the patient’s numerous hassles with regard to medical records – from keeping them all at one place to travelling with them for every doctor visit while being cautious about not misplacing any. More so, patients have been provided a choice to voluntarily go for a Health ID and given absolute authority over their medical data and whom they want to share them with.

2. Inclusivity in healthcare: The strategy document mentions that in the upcoming stages, plans are afoot to bring under the fold of NDHM e-pharmacies and telemedicine services. That will be a ground-breaking step. As per the recent report by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) in the US, India is facing shortage of 600,000 doctors. The country’s doctor-patient ratio at 1:1456 is way below the WHO-stipulated limit of 1:1000. While multiple start-ups in India have been trying to fix the gigantic problem of doctor shortage in the country, the government’s renewed push to telemedicine and e-pharmacy will take quality care to the masses, ensuring inclusivity and equality in healthcare.

Patients from small towns and cities could be able to consult experienced doctors and avail quality low-cost generic medicines. The technological intervention will bridge the urban-rural healthcare divide that still exists. To streamline the processes, the government could look at roping in private players who have long been addressing similar issues.

3. Data is crucial: NDHM is betting big on big data to fix lingering problems of healthcare. Through judiciously leveraging machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, it aims to go beyond just digitizing personal health records to analysing the data to learn disease patterns, predict onset of ailments and suggest seasonal outbreaks, opening up numerous possibilities to bring efficiencies, effectiveness and transparency in healthcare delivery. Meanwhile, this would also provide support to Telehealth and EHR providers who are struggling to break even. With the convergence of data, they will also be able to explore better collaboration and business opportunities with the wider pharmaceutical industry.

4. Cutting down cost: Curbing cost of healthcare is one of the major targets of NDHM. Technology will play a definitive and pivotal role in plugging unnecessary gaps and help make healthcare affordable in the country. For instance, the digitization effort will save patients from travelling far and wide just to see a Physician as also reduce the burden of getting same diagnostic tests done multiple times. All these are cost-intensive components in seeking medical help and creates undue financial burden.

The government has laid down the ambitious digital roadmap for Indian healthcare with digital health mission. Challenges, however, would be in its implementation. The government can collaborate with private players in the digital space who share the same mission and vision to counter any challenges and build technological infrastructure at scale to help bring the Indian digital healthcare dream to fruition. Post-COVID era would certainly mark a new milestone in the history of Indian Healthcare.

(The author is is the founder & CEO of Doceree, the World’s Largest Programmatic Physician Engagement Platform. With Doceree, he is aiming to address the acute problem of rising cost of healthcare by bringing in efficiency and effectiveness in physician marketing with methodical use of data and creativity. Views expressed are personal.)

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