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View from India: Digital programme for healthy country

Digital health is expected to transform millions of lives in India in the next one year. This healthy forecast is attributed to a massive health protection scheme that is scheduled for launch early in 2017.

“The new National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) is expected to be a game-changer. A digitised cashless system has been mapped out to cover 400 million people who belong to the bottom of the economic pyramid,” said Dr Rajendra Pratap Gupta, advisor to the Union Health Minister, while delivering the keynote address at the Smart Tech Healthcare 2016 Summit, organised by Explore Exhibitions and Conferences.

The template for NHPS has been laid out by the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), a health insurance scheme, which has leveraged the IT platform to bring over 41 million people from rural and remote regions under its fold. Every beneficiary family has been issued a biometric-enabled smart card that can be used in any RSBY-empanelled hospital across India. The smart card also makes it a cashless and paperless transaction.

While the health landscape of the country is scheduled for a makeover, this year India has taken a resolution at a WHO event to roll out government-led e-health and m-health initiatives for better efficacy and efficiency. A suite of health-based apps has been launched since then, such as the Swasth Bharat Mobile (Android) app that offers information about healthy lifestyle, disease conditions, symptoms, treatment options, first aid and public health alerts.

Clearly these apps indicate that the government is planning to invest in the health of its citizens in order to reap demographic dividend. Technology, which includes IT solutions and mobile, will work as a bridge between the government and the masses. “When we look at EHR (electronic health records), 60,000 people have been surveyed in 22 states; 80 per cent of these have mobile phones and a substantial number of people use mobile for health,” added Dr Gupta. However a lot needs to be done. “As per the Technology Adoption Survey Findings 2014-2015, 55 per cent of doctors are aware of m-health and 63 per cent of doctors are aware of telemedicine,” he revealed.

These apps bring awareness and orient people towards self examination. For instance, users can check dengue symptoms and view do’s and don’ts for prevention of dengue with the India Fights Dengue App.

In its effort to give an impetus to digital health, state governments have come forward with large-scale projects to promote private players in the healthcare segment. Andhra Pradesh has made a move in this direction by initiating the country’s first Andhra Pradesh Medical Technology Zone (AMTZ) in port city Vishakhapatnam. The Zone aims to position AP as a manufacturing hub for medical devices, a leader in medical technology exports, generate employment and lower the cost of medical devices for patients.

The Zone, which is expected to be developed over the next one year, will have all the state-of-the art infrastructure and capital-intensive logistics required for manufacturing medical devices. Government of Andhra Pradesh has developed 270 acres of land for this project.

Besides that, there’s an overall attempt to scale up the health domain with innovative technology solutions. Already the National Healthcare Innovations Portal has been established to pool-in and showcase innovative programs designs, practices, technology solutions and products across the public and private healthcare sector of India. Annually five innovations will be selected for scaling up their work.

Digital Health, which generally operates in silos, will get an institutional push as the Ministry of Health is in the process of setting up a think tank with representation from the private sector and government. It will be open to inputs from the private sector. 

As a long-term measure, Wi-Fi, internet and tech tools will be used to create a single online medical record. “There will be one comprehensive medical record per patient and doctors will speak into the record through voice recognition software. This will be their prescription which will be sent to the pharmacy that will connect to mobile nursing units to do the needful,” highlighted Dr Jitendar Sharma, CEO, Andhra Pradesh Medtech Zone Limited.

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