By Dr Satyender Goel
Union Budget 2022-23 has given healthcare a much-needed digital push. Rolling out an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem (NDHE), setting up of National Telehealth Mental Scheme, incentivising start-ups, which would include health, and Drone Shakti are innovative ideas in the right direction.
These new initiatives are in line with the Indian government’s commitment to bridge the health accessibility gap and provide rapid coverage for key issues facing a large swath of the Indian population. The National Digital Health Ecosystem in this age of digitization and rollout of 5G technology would make healthcare accessible to the needs of over 1.4 billion population in India, many of whom were scarred due to the pandemic.
While the provider community is catching up with the recent changes in clinical care documentation standards. The digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity and universal access to health facilities have come live under the National Digital Health Ecosystem, which has the potential to open access to healthcare digitally in the remotest of areas in India where even the Primary Health Centres (PHCs) are unavailable.
Healthcare start-ups are aligning themselves to integrate with the digital sandbox of the National Digital Health Ecosystem and enable easy onboarding of patients and providers. To further push the digital mission, it is vital for the government to partner with the private sector and use the technological innovations coming from creative start-ups in the field.
A point noteworthy is Drone Shakti – a plan to encourage drone technology. This could be used in multiple ways in the healthcare segment, too. NDHE guidelines reflect openness to adopt technological interventions for scaling up the coverage across India. Solutions like portable testing kits, self-operated health kiosks and at-home monitoring are paramount to the success of the healthy India mission.
The proposed National Telehealth Scheme involving Bengaluru-based NIMHANS shows the importance given by the government to a large segment of the population that was stressed out following the pandemic and is part of what the Finance Minister said about “empathy for the pandemic-hit population”.
The National Digital Health Ecosystem may help accelerate the regular screening for Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) across urban and rural Primary Health Centres (PHCs) being piloted through the National Health Mission and National Urban Health Mission to catch up on the lost time during the Covid-19 pandemic emergency. Incorporating the NCDs clinics in line with Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with wellness centres or at PHCs may be promising.
Government and private corporations have adopted digital health and wellness at a rapid pace due to unforeseen adjustments required during the pandemic. Now they are looking to not only adjust to this new normal but ways to meet the rising needs of cardiovascular care among people with a high level of stress and abnormal lifestyle.
The timing couldn’t be more apt for making digital health and wellness a centrepiece of the healthcare budget. There is a lot to unfold over the year and real success lies in meeting the emerging needs of ailing people before it is too late. But National Digital Health Ecosystem and other Government healthcare schemes are the right steps inching us closer to true digital health evolution in India.
(The author is Founder & CEO of India Health Link, a digital wellness care company in India, and Professor at Northwestern University, Chicago, USA.)