The last decade has seen healthcare moving out of hospitals to patients’ homes through digital health infrastructure, which has played a pivotal role in the decentralization of healthcare, improving efficiency, reducing costs, and enhancing patient experiences. The term digital health architecture encompasses applications emerging from the intersection of healthcare and technology like telehealth, mobile health, electronic health records, etc.
Digital health – Potential and possibilities
Digital health infrastructure is immensely empowering patients by offering them digitally enabled care continuum pathways, broadening their access to healthcare services. Patients can now actively identify healthcare delivery points for their treatment procedures, utilizing apps to track health conditions and access information for informed decision-making. It further streamlines their access to healthcare services, at various levels, including hospitals and clinics, by making it easier to book appointments, access hospital beds, etc., through user-friendly apps. Further, digital healthcare technology is indispensable for achieving improved health outcomes at an affordable cost. It contributes to improved healthcare sustainability by facilitating cost reduction through automating processes, eliminating unnecessary expenses, enhancing healthcare professionals’ efficiency, and enabling smarter workflows. Enhanced availability of health data enables integration of evidence-based health applications into clinical pathways, leading to enhanced treatment outcomes and broader accessibility to specialized and personalized therapies, particularly beneficial for individuals dealing with chronic conditions. Together, this can contribute to the delivery of 4P medicine – medicine that is predictive, preventative, personalized, and participatory.
Recognizing these possibilities, the Indian government has initiated building a national digital health ecosystem, reinforcing its commitment to democratize the healthcare segment through digital innovation. The National Health Policy 2017 envisioned a fully integrated and digitized healthcare delivery system, which culminated in the Ayushman Bharat Digital Health Mission (ABDM). The ABDM is positioned as the backbone to bolster the digital health infrastructure of the nation, bridging the existing gap among different stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem through an open digital health ecosystem. Its key building blocks include standardized health registries, a unique patient identity (ABHA ID), a unique healthcare professional registry (HPR), and a healthcare facility registry (HFR) generating interoperable health records. It takes a step forward in enhancing the system’s efficiency through its National Health Claims Exchange platform (HCX), which envisions standardizing the claims process by creating a transparent and rule-based platform of claim processing. The role of seamless data transfer is also pivotal in the mixed healthcare market in India. Other government initiatives complement efforts, such as National Health Stack, National Digital Health Blueprint, e-Sanjeevani, and various other efforts to defragment the health ecosystem and enhance the efficiency of the system with the betterment of patient experience.
Breaking the barriers – Going the digital way
Realizing the full potential of digital health architecture necessitates establishing a supportive infrastructure for seamless integration and functionality, a comprehensive digital upskilling program for healthcare professionals to ensure they adeptly navigate these emerging technologies, and clear regulatory guidelines to uphold data security protocols, safeguarding patient-provider confidentiality.
The robust implementation of our digital health infrastructure requires a shared commitment of all the stakeholders as one Team India, leapfrogging India’s journey toward achieving its target of achieving Universal Health Coverage as envisaged in the National Health Policy, 2017, in this Amrit Kaal. India has all the essential ingredients for the exponential growth in this sector, including incredible internet and smartphone penetration, alongside technical manpower. Therefore, digital health architecture must be embedded as an integral part of health priorities. Further, it should be developed with principles of transparency, accessibility, scalability, replicability, interoperability, privacy, security, and confidentiality for it to benefit people in an ethical, safe, secure, reliable, affordable, equitable, and sustainable way.