Digital healthcare: India’s attempt to scale up healthcare services for its citizens
India has made a remarkable stride in the digital healthcare sector over the past few years
India has been actively promoting digital healthcare as a way to improve access to healthcare services for its citizens. This digitalisation in the healthcare sector has been driven by a combination of factors, including the rise of innovative startups in the sector.
Rapid adoption of digital technology, development of several innovative solutions such as telemedicine, e-pharmacy, digital health records, and mobile health apps are also adding to the growth of digital healthcare services in India. Moreover, these digital solutions are enabling patients to access healthcare services from the comfort of their homes.
This year, the budgetary allocation for the National Digital Health Mission has been increased to Rs 341.02 crore from Rs 140 crore in 2022-23. Whereas the allocation for the National Tele Mental Health Programme has been increased from Rs 121 crore in 2022-23 to Rs 133.73 crore currently.
As per a report by Research and Markets, the world’s leading source for international market research and data, the digital healthcare market in India is expected to reach a value of USD 15.3 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 27.41% during the period 2020-2025.
Main factors of growth
One of the key factors driving the growth of digital healthcare in India is the increasing demand for healthcare services in the country. India has a population of over 1.3 billion and the healthcare infrastructure in the country is struggling to keep up with the growing demand for services.
This has created an opportunity for digital healthcare solutions, which can provide access to healthcare services to people in remote and rural areas, where traditional healthcare services may not be available.
In 2015, India launched the Digital India programme with the aim of transforming the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Here are some of the key government initiatives for digital healthcare in India:
National Digital Health Mission (NDHM): Launched in August 2020, the NDHM aims to create a digital infrastructure for healthcare services in the country, including a digital health ID for each citizen that will provide access to their health records and allow them to share their data with healthcare providers. The mission also aims to enable telemedicine services, e-pharmacy services, and the integration of health services across the country.
National Health Stack (NHS): The NHS is a set of open digital systems that aim to provide a secure and interoperable platform for healthcare data exchange. It includes various components such as the National Health Electronic Registry (NHER), the National Health Analytics Platform (NHAP), and the Health Financial Management System (HFMS).
Telemedicine Services: In March 2020, the Indian government issued guidelines for telemedicine services, allowing doctors to provide consultations to patients remotely using video calls, audio calls, or messaging platforms. This has helped to improve access to healthcare services for people in remote and rural areas who may not have access to traditional healthcare services.
eSanjeevani: Launched in 2019, eSanjeevani is a national telemedicine initiative that provides telemedicine services to people in remote and underserved areas of the country. The platform has two components - eSanjeevani OPD, which provides teleconsultation services to patients, and eSanjeevani AB-HWC, which provides teleconsultation services to patients in Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres.
Ayushman Bharat - Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY): Launched in 2018, AB-PMJAY is a health insurance scheme that provides financial protection to the poor and vulnerable sections of the society for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization. The scheme has been integrated with the NDHM and eSanjeevani to provide better access to healthcare services for its beneficiaries.
These initiatives are expected to significantly improve the healthcare infrastructure in the country, promote digital healthcare services, and help achieve the goal of providing accessible and affordable healthcare services to all citizens.
The rise of innovative startups in the digital healthcare sector is another key factor driving the growth of this industry in India. Over the past few years, there has been a surge in the number of startups focused on digital healthcare solutions, with many of these startups leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics to develop innovative solutions.
These startups are not only providing innovative solutions to address the healthcare needs of the Indian population, but they are also contributing to the growth of the Indian economy. According to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Ernst and Young (EY), the digital healthcare sector in India has the potential to create 1.2 million new jobs by 2024, and generate revenue of $16 billion.
The report also highlights the potential of digital healthcare in India to contribute to the country's economic growth. The report estimates that the digital healthcare industry could add $200 billion to India's GDP by 2026, driven by increased access to healthcare services, reduced healthcare costs, and improved health outcomes for the population.
Moreover, India has the second-largest smartphone user base in the world, and the internet penetration rate is growing rapidly. This has created a favourable environment for the adoption of digital healthcare solutions such as mobile health apps and telemedicine.
In addition to its economic potential, the growth of digital healthcare in India is also contributing to the overall improvement of healthcare services in the country. Digital healthcare solutions are helping to overcome many of the challenges faced by the traditional healthcare system in India, such as a shortage of healthcare professionals, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and limited access to healthcare services in remote and rural areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of digital healthcare in India, and the trend is expected to continue even after the pandemic subsides. Digital healthcare solutions are also helping to improve the quality of healthcare services in India by enabling more accurate diagnoses and treatments.
For example, AI-powered diagnostic tools can analyse medical images and help doctors to identify and diagnose medical conditions more accurately, while telemedicine platforms can enable doctors to provide remote consultations to patients, reducing the need for patients to travel long distances to access healthcare services.
Overall, the economic potential of India's digital healthcare industry is significant, and the industry is expected to be a major contributor to India's economic growth in the years to come. With the government's support, the adoption of new technologies, and increasing awareness among the population, digital healthcare solutions can transform the healthcare landscape in India and provide better healthcare services to all.
*** The author is a Mumbai-based journalist; views expressed are her own