Governance Science & Tech

India’s spectacular success in digital healthcare

During the pandemic, India made use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). As systems moved online to accommodate contactless care, digital health solutions played a critical role in bridging the gap in healthcare delivery.

India’s spectacular demonstration of digital public good (DPG) so far

  • Aadhar and UPI are similar to DPG building blocks: India has demonstrated its digital prowess by creating digital public goods such as the digital identity system Aadhaar, DPGs built on top of Aadhaar, and the Unified Payments Interface.
  • PDS with Aadhar and UPI payments: While Aadhaar has become an integral part of India’s public service delivery architecture, UPI has changed the way payments are made.
  • One of the most active internet users: With 1.2 billion wireless connections and 800 million internet users, our digital public infrastructure has reached the final mile.
  • The Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network (CoWIN) and the Aarogya Setu application are two examples of DPGs developed during the pandemic. CoWIN pushed India to go completely digital with its vaccination strategy. Aarogya Setu provided real-time information on active cases and containment zones to assist citizens in assessing risk in their communities.
  • Telemedicine platforms saw an increase in user acquisitions as 85 percent of physicians used teleconsultations during the pandemic, highlighting the need to better incorporate cutting-edge digital technologies into healthcare services.

Recognizing the current need?

  • Although the pandemic’s impact on health services has heightened awareness of the benefits of digital innovation and technology-enabled solutions, private entities, health technology players, and the public sector have been driving digitization in the sector for some time.
  • To bring together existing siloed efforts and move toward proactive, holistic, and citizen-centric healthcare, it has become clear that a comprehensive digital healthcare ecosystem is required.

Government initiatives in this area?

  • Healthcare shared public goods: Recognizing this need, the government established shared public goods for healthcare and created a framework for a national digital health system. This marked a watershed moment in Indian healthcare.
  • ABDM (Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission): On September 27, 2021, the Prime Minister launched the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission under the auspices of the National Health Authority. ABDM has established a solid framework for providing accessible, affordable, and equitable healthcare via digital highways within a year of its launch. The ABDM has put in place critical building blocks to bring all stakeholders in the digital healthcare ecosystem together.
  • The Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA): The Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA) establishes a standard identifier for patients across healthcare providers. Citizens can link, store, and share their health records using the ABHA and its associated Personal Health Record (PHR) app to access healthcare services with autonomy and consent. The mission is rapidly expanding, with over 300 million ABHAs and 50 million linked health records.
  • For central digital health information, the Health Facility Registry (HFR) and the Health Professional Registries (HPR): HFR and HPR accounts provide verified digital identities to public and private health facilities and professionals of all sizes. This allows them to connect to a centralised digital ecosystem while also serving as a single source of verified healthcare provider-related information. HFR and HPR help healthcare professionals build an online presence and offer services more effectively by improving the discovery of healthcare facilities. The
  • A drug registry for a centralized repository of approved medications: It is a critical building block in the creation of a single, up-to-date, centralized repository of all approved drugs across all medical systems.
  • The Unified Health Interface (UHI) connects healthcare providers and end users: It aims to strengthen the health sector by allowing all healthcare service providers and end-user applications on its network to interact with one another. This will provide a consistent experience for service discovery, appointment scheduling, teleconsultations, ambulance access, and other functions. The UHI is built on open network protocols and can address the current issue of disparate digital solutions being unable to communicate with one another.

What is the government’s next move in this area?

  • To give UHI a boost, the government is repurposing Aarogya Setu and CoWIN: Aarogya Setu is being transformed into a general health and wellness application, while CoWIN is being transformed into a general health and wellness application. Simultaneously, CoWIN will be integrated with a lite Hospital Management Information System (HMIS) for small clinics, bringing digitization to the masses.
  • Taking care of the patient registration process at hospital counters: Scan and share is another application of ABDM that uses a QR code-based token system to manage queues at hospital counters. It uses the ABHA and PHR foundational elements to streamline the outpatient registration process in large hospitals.
  • Global expansion of the healthcare digital initiative: The government also intends to expand its digital healthcare initiatives with Heal by India, which will make India’s healthcare professionals’ services available globally.
  • Platform for organ donation: A platform for the allocation of deceased organ and tissue donations is also being developed, making the process faster and more transparent.

Way forward

  • Digitize and automate the insurance claim settlement process: After implementing digital solutions, the next step is to digitize and automate the insurance claim settlement process via the Health Claim Exchange platform.
  • Making the claim settlement process more affordable and transparent: It is necessary to make claim-related information verifiable, auditable, traceable, and interoperable among various entities, allowing claim processing to become more affordable, transparent, and real-time.
  • Bringing global efforts for digital health together: India takes over the G20 presidency this year. The G20 Global Initiative on Digital Health calls for the establishment of an institutional framework for a connected health ecosystem in order to coordinate global efforts in digital health.
  • Scaling up technologies to accelerate UHC: It also calls for the scaling up of technologies such as global DPGs to accelerate Universal Health Coverage.

@the end

The ABDM has proven to be a valuable asset, and the National Health Authority has accelerated its adoption across states. It aims to lay the groundwork for a long-term digital public health infrastructure, allowing India to achieve universal health coverage. The mission embodies the G20 theme of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” which translates as “One Earth. One Family. One Future.”

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