India Should Steward Digital Health – Globally

2018-2019 will be remembered as defining years in the history of Digital Health. India proposing the mHealth resolution at WHA (World Health Assembly) in 2016 was the first of its kind. Though it did not get adopted that year, but in 2018, WHA passed a resolution on digital health, which will bring digital health in focus for WHO – and we are already seeing the impact. The 4th Global Digital Health Partnership (GDHP) is a direct fall out of the resolution. India hosted a mega summit in February this year passing the Delhi Declaration for Digital Health , and has led the way for pushing the horizons of digital health.

In 2016, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare released the Electronic Health Record Standards, thereby making it clear, that India would build a strong foundation before embarking on the journey. In fact, the MOFHW was in the process of setting up the IHIN (India Health Information Network) on the lines of Asia eHealth Information Network (AHIN ) in 2016. A lot of ground work had also been done for the National Digital Health Authority (NDHA) as well, which was an election manifesto commitment of BJP in 2014 and later, Modi Government made it a part of the National Health Policy in 2017. However, due to the transfer of two senior bureaucrats heading digital health in MOHFW, digital health initiatives on IHIN/NDHA became a casualty to bureaucratic red-tape and politics. Else, by now, India would have been ranked number 1 in the Global Digital Health Index (GDHI). GDHI is another major initiative globally, which will boost the adoption and maturity of digital health across the globe through; comparison, collaboration and competition. The first report on the State of Digital Health 2019 was released in Uganda in April, and this annual report will make a huge impact for governments aspiring to take leadership role in digital health deployment.

GDHI is another major initiative globally, which will boost the adoption and maturity of digital health across the globe through; comparison, collaboration and competition.

Also, WHO recently released guidelines for digital health interventions for health systems strengthening. This is an outcome of three years of hard work at WHO. India must now do regional public consultations, and the MOHFW should convene a meeting of the Central Council of Health & Family Welfare on this issue, and seek the involvement of states in deploying digital health.

Given that India is setting up 150,000 health and wellness centres by converting its rural health centres, and these have an element of tele-medicine as its offering, it is the right time to frame legal and regulatory frame works/standards for digital health, data privacy & protection act. Also, point of care diagnostics needs a big push, along with guidelines & regulations for Point of care diagnostics, IOT & wearables.

Given that India is setting up 150,000 health and wellness centres by converting its rural health centres, and these have an element of tele-medicine as its offering, it is the right time to frame legal and regulatory frame works/standards for digital health, data privacy & protection act.

India must learn from the agility shown by the US FDA on digital health and it is the right time for India to set up the National Digital Health Authority (NDHA) to leverage the potential of digital health. Also, C-DAC should be given funds to deploy EHR and a patient appointment scheduling system across government hospitals. This EHR can be given free to developing countries and India can help them with deployment. This will also be a good strategy to share our highly competent technical manpower with those countries, and help them advance the healthcare delivery through adoption of digital tools. This will be of a phenomenal help for those countries to leverage EHR (perhaps a mobile health record at this time would be more appropriate, given the convergence to mobile health in low resource settings), and tele-medicine can be integrated in healthcare delivery for bridging the divide for remote areas and proving cross border consultations; thus making up for the shortfall of trained medical resources.

India must learn from the agility shown by the US FDA on digital health and it is the right time for India to set up the National Digital Health Authority (NDHA) to leverage the potential of digital health.

WHO has designated 2020 as the International Year of Nurse and Mid-wife, and India must ensure that Nurses move up the value chain in healthcare delivery, and use technology to play a role of effective gate-keeper. They will play a big role in primary and secondary prevention and thereby help in saving costs incurred due to co-morbidities. Also, now that India is moving towards Universal Health Care through PMJAY; nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists (other allied health workers), must play a more central role in preventive care.

Now that India is moving towards Universal Health Care through PMJAY; nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists (other allied health workers), must play a more central role in preventive care.

India must use digital health for diplomacy through south-south collaboration. Former President, Dr. Kalam, was a visionary who set up the Pan African eNetwork Project – more than a decade ago, to deliver tele-education & tele-medicine in African countries. This must be given a push and the tele-medicine part should be moved from MEA to MOHFW. India has the best of technical resources and we must use our OPD and IPD data from government hospitals to develop a decision support system driven by Big-data and AI. This tool could be shared with all developing countries, especially with African countries, and it would play a big role in timely diagnosis and even treatment. At the end, we would be able to impact tens of millions of lives across continents and also, this does not require much investment.

India has been known as the software capital of the world, and it is time that India takes a stewardship role, and becomes the World Leader in Digital Health. All it needs is a push at the top, and rest, the competent brains in technology can deliver. It will be in the fitment of things, given the push for Digital India as the flagship program of the Modi Government. – ORF Online

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