Digital Health could be a gamechanger in achieving India’s goal of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030 if the country increases its investment in innovation and creates a robust healthcare ecosystem, says Amit Mookim
India’s rising population, rapid urbanisation, sedentary lifestyles and fast-paced lives have resulted in an increasing disease burden. Rising non-communicable diseases (NCDs), as well as communicable diseases (CDs), demand a robust healthcare delivery system. While India has made significant progress in providing better healthcare to its people, the lack of adequate infrastructure, limited access to healthcare facilities, shortage of medical professionals and quality of service provided remain major roadblocks to efficiently manage the health of its population.
Healthcare services are becoming increasingly tech-enabled, and digital health has the potential to expand across diagnostics, laboratories, drugs, insurance and point of care, among others. Digital health can revolutionise the way India deals with healthcare delivery by not just helping in preventive management, but by also playing a catalytic role in the entire continuum of care from tracking data to preventing an epidemic through ensuring timely medical intervention. The new digital health ecosystem needs a major focus from all stakeholders, including governments, and requires innovation to drive growth.
Several start-ups have led innovation in digital health through the efficient use of tech-enabled services whether in the management of hospital information systems or management of NCDs like diabetes or even food and nutrition management. Start-ups now provide cloud-based hospital information management systems that help hospitals optimise productivity, streamline operations and reduce inventory leakages. The management of chronic diseases to has become more efficient and some chronic diseases, like diabetes, can be effectively managed via digital health. Digital intervention can also ensure the last-mile delivery of medicines. The population today is better informed and aware of health and fitness. Food, exercise and emotional balance have become centre stage and growing awareness about food and nutrition have created a huge opportunity for digital health.
Emerging applications of technology like big data and advanced analytics are empowering health systems incrementally. Predictive analytics can play a big role in patient care management and can ensure that treatment or surgical interventions are carried out in the best possible manner. Similarly, with the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing, doctors can track and monitor the vital health parameters of a patient at any given point in time. While the data helps doctors treat patients better, it has the potential to allow healthcare payers and other providers to offer better and more personalised services by leveraging this data.
Yet, despite all these benefits of digital health, India faces several challenges. The adoption of digital health in India has been slow due to lack of funding and incubation opportunities. Unlike countries like Israel, UK, USA or even Singapore, India does not have an adequate and forward-looking innovation and accelerator ecosystem as a result of which many healthcare tech start-ups founded in the last few years in India have had to shut shop.
The lack of adequate investment in research, development and commercialisation of innovations is killing the spirit of innovation. India aims to achieve the goal of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030. Ayushman Bharat Mission with its two components - Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna (PMJAY) and Health & Wellness Centres (HWCs) - is expected to be the great enabler in achieving this goal. However, the current cost structure of treatments under PMJAY makes UHC an uphill task.
The National Health Authority (NHA) has taken several measures to drive innovation for efficient implementations of Ayushman Bharat. By signing an MoU with NATHEALTH, NHA envisages creating a robust digital health ecosystem to mainstream innovations in Ayushman Bharat. Under the agreement, innovators would be supported, funded and encouraged to commercialise their products and services. This is an opportune time to scale innovations through start-ups and fund the future success of entrepreneurs. Such collaborations will encourage stakeholders, including corporate and governments, to institutionalise support and funding for research, incubation and innovation.
India needs to take up several measures on an urgent footing:
Invest more in R&D and innovation. India needs more Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)like institutions which supports research and innovation in biotechnology and allied areas.
India needs to create a robust Intellectual Property (IP) regime with favourable IP laws.
We need to encourage foreign investment and invite more collaboration and partnerships between global and Indian healthcare companies. Tech development should be centred around the need of consumers. If a company wants to innovate and develop an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) tech, it would need access to ICUs of local health institutions which it does not have right now. To develop innovative ICU technologies, governments and hospitals need to allow innovators access to research and development.
Finally, in the last two years, there has been a lack of trust in healthcare due to regulatory uncertainty which has acted as a deterrent to multinational healthcare companies wanting to invest in India. Rebuilding trust through rational regulation is the need of the hour.
Policymakers, academicians, entrepreneurs, and experts from healthcare need to mentor and guide innovators to pilot their products and help them commercialise products and services for the masses. Increasing investments in innovation will foster more innovation and help create a well-rounded healthcare ecosystem in India that will significantly contribute to addressing the country’s healthcare challenges.
Credit : The name of Author is Amit Mookim (Governing Council Member of NATHEALTH) and ETHealthworld