The government’s mission is to provide efficient and affordable health coverage through a wide range of data and infrastructure services. The spotlight is also on rural healthcare.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s government rolled out yet another transformative reform by launching the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission.
The blueprint of the National Digital Health Mission was launched last year. Its sole purpose is to provide efficient and affordable health coverage through a wide-range of data and infrastructure services. The programme is now a reality being implemented in the pilot phase in six union territories.
The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission will create a seamless online platform through the provision of a wide range of data, information and infrastructure services, duly leveraging open, interoperable, standards-based digital systems while ensuring security, confidentiality and privacy of health-related personal information.
The Mission will enable access and exchange of longitudinal health records of citizens with their consent.
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The key components of the Mission include a health ID for every citizen that will also work as their health account, to which personal health records can be linked and viewed with the help of a mobile application; a Healthcare Professionals Registry (HPR) and Healthcare Facilities Registries (HFR) that will act as a repository of all healthcare providers across both modern and traditional systems of medicine. This will ensure ease of doing business for doctors/hospitals and healthcare service providers.
The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission Sandbox, created as a part of the Mission, will act as a framework for technology and product testing that will help organizations, including private players, intending to be a part of the National Digital Health Ecosystem become a Health Information Provider or Health Information User or efficiently link with building blocks of Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission.
The Mission will create interoperability within the digital health ecosystem, similar to the role played by the Unified Payments Interface in revolutionising payments. According to the prime minister’s office "Citizens will only be a click away from accessing healthcare facilities.”
Last month, the NHA received public comments on its proposed Unified Health Interface project which is part of the NDHM. The project is devised to create an open, interoperable platform connecting digital health solutions. It will be used by patients and providers to discover, book, pay and fulfil various digital health services, such as teleconsultations, across applications.
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India’s healthcare has been under the spotlight since the devastating second wave of the pandemic engulfed the country exacting a heavy toll on human life. This despite the fact that the country’s public health expenditure has been steadily rising over the last decade in order to cater to its growing population. In the fiscal year 2018, the value of public health expenditure by states and union territories together amounted to around 1.58 trillion Indian rupees. This was estimated to be around 1.28 percent of the country’s GDP. In comparison, the United States’ budget estimates showed an outlay of over 17 percent of the GDP to public health expenditure in its fiscal year 2018.
According to investors, India's healthcare industry is worth more than $370 billion, and the Indian healthtech industry itself is set to grow at a pace of 39% for the next few years according to IAMAI-Praxis.
Among the many changes seen in the Indian healthcare sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, one notable transformation has been in online consultations. Growth in teleconsultation peaked after the lockdown induced by the pandemic and reached a market size of $163 million in March 2021. According to a recent report by Praxis Global Alliance, a global management consulting and advisory services firm based in India, the online doctor consultation market is expected to be over $800 million by FY2024 - growing at 72 percent CAGR across the country.
In a major announcement this May, the Reserve Bank of India also announced a $6.7-billion on-tap liquidity window for the healthcare sector with a tenor of up to three years at the repo rate up to March 31, 2022. Under this scheme, banks could provide fresh loans to companies engaged in manufacturing, imports and supplies of vaccines, Covid-related medicines, medical devices and oxygen generators. Such on tap lending facilities would also be available to hospitals, pathology laboratories and dispensaries. Individuals could also avail of loans under this window to cover a part of the cost of treatment.
Thanks to the measures taken by the government during the pandemic health as a subject received the priority and attention it deserved. The attention needs to be converted into tangible, lasting improvements in the health system across all levels.
The government woke up to the fact that the pandemic had exposed the significant demand-supply imbalance which has been a chronic issue in the Indian healthcare system. This needed to be addressed with a series of structural measures to boost the healthcare sector – something akin to the support received by the Information Technology Sector in the 90s.
The government is acutely aware of the need for a robust healthcare system. Not only is it a matter of national security but the prosperity and economic development of a nation are correlated with the well-being of its populace. Hence, provision of accessible healthcare is not a consequence but a pre-requisite for economic growth as well.
Which is what Modi has constantly been drawing attention to, stating that in order to improve healthcare services in India, it is crucial that the medical services of the villages should be improved.
"Today the network related to primary health care is being strengthened in the village and near the house. So far 80,000 such centres have been made operational. Unprecedented reforms are also taking place in medical education to transform India's health sector. Today more doctors and paramedical manpower are being prepared in the country than before in 7-8 years," he said.
He added that along with a better medical system, it is also necessary that the poor and middle class spend the least on medicines. Modi reiterated that the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission would connect the digital health solutions of hospitals across the country.According to him, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission would assist in eliminating problems in the medical treatment of the poor and middle class.