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Embracing technological transformation in Indian healthcare – A vision for progress

In India, the majority of healthcare equipment is being imported, mainly from China. Healthcare personnel embraced this unproven technology into their routine clinical practice, thereby escalating the healthcare costs. This reliance on foreign sources for healthcare technology has not only introduced unverified solutions but has also driven up the costs of medical services. As the healthcare sector grapples with these challenges, a promising beacon of change emerges through the forward-looking efforts of various entities.

NITI Aayog, India’s policy think tank, has been quick to recognize the potential advantages offered by emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and 3D printing, and initiated encouraging steps for medical entrepreneurs. The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has been overseeing the formulation and regulation of health-related policies and standards, playing a pivotal role in shaping the health-tech landscape.

The National Health Policy, 2017, also promotes domestic manufacturing of medical devices in consonance with the Make in India initiative. The government’s enthusiasm for technological advancements is palpable through initiatives like the NeHA (National electronic Health Authority), the National Digital Health Blueprint, and the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence. The WHO Collaborating Centre for Priority Medical Devices and Health Technology Policy, under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, has also stressed the importance of National Health Innovation Portal and health technology assessment in its strategic priorities.

Crucial private sector players, including Tata Medical and Diagnostics group and Apollo Hospital, have joined hands as key partners in the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission. This collaborative effort is geared toward creating a national digital health ecosystem that supports universal health coverage in an efficient, accessible, inclusive, affordable, timely, and safe manner. While these strides are commendable, at the present pace, the trajectory toward leveraging technology for the betterment of India’s population of 1.4 billion might still require another 15–20 years.

However, the lethargy, with which many state governments are incorporating the overarching vision set forth by the Government of India, is deplorable. Many state governments are trailing behind in harnessing the potential of technological revolution to provide universal, essential, and affordable healthcare. Even initiatives like the creation of the MedTech zone in Andhra Pradesh during 2016 have yet to achieve the desired national prominence.

Covid-19 pandemic has served as a stark reminder of the significance of healthcare technology. The imported ventilators during the crisis shed light on the importance of maintaining stringent quality standards. These substandard ventilators were unable to meet the required standards and were not found suitable to administer the high-flow oxygen supply during the second wave of the pandemic. Hence, it is necessary to establish healthcare technology assessment (HTA) units to maintain the required quality.

Recognizing the urgency of addressing India’s unique health challenges and the need for indigenous healthcare technological solutions for India’s inherent health issues, the government established the Centre for Biomedical Devices. Another promising initiative comes in the form of the Multidisciplinary Translational Research Centre (MURTI), which houses a Health Technology Assessment wing in association with the GITAM Institute of Medical Sciences & Research (GIMSR). At present, GIMSR is involved in developing innovative healthcare technologies, tailored to India’s context, and rigorously validating them through their 750-bed tertiary care hospital.

While focussing on healthcare technology, one shouldn’t forget the role of humanitarian behaviour and empathetic communication in delivering appropriate healthcare. GIMSR is actively engaged in preparing futuristic doctors equipped to manage health deviations with intellectual mind as well as humanistic heart.

As India marches toward a future defined by advanced healthcare technology, it is imperative that collective efforts across governmental, private, and academic sectors be made to realize a healthcare landscape that is universally accessible, technologically advanced, and highly reliable. 

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