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What is the National Digital Health Mission? Will it Prove to be a Game Changer for the Indian Healthcare Sector?

Aug 18, 2020 12:02 PM 4 min read

The ongoing pandemic has exposed the fault in our healthcare industry and infrastructure. And perhaps having recognised the need for a revolution in the sector, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his seventh Independence Day address announced the launch of the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM).



What is the National Digital Health Mission?

The mission envisages the setting up of a digital healthcare industry in India, under which every Indian citizen will have a unique health ID, digitised health records as well as a registry of doctors and healthcare facilities that aim to provide timely, safe and affordable healthcare to all. 

The NDHM comprises six key components - HealthID, DigiDoctor, Health Facility Registry, Personal Health Records, e-Pharmacy and Telemedicine.

"The National Digital Health Mission will eliminate all these difficulties related to appointments with a doctor, depositing money, making a slip in the hospital, etc. We are devising a system which will help each and every citizen to make a better and informed decision," Modi said in his announcement.

Highlight of the NDHM: Under the proposed NDHM, every Indian would receive a identity card, much along the lines of Aadhaar and One Nation One Ration Card (no surprises there!) - which will store all health records digitally, including details of every test, every disease, the doctors one has visited, the medicines prescribed and the diagnosis.

As per this report, the health ID is not mandatory. Moreover, there will be an option of the ID being linked to Aadhaar but it will not be mandatory unless the person wants to avail any of the Government subsidy schemes. The Government has also assured that the data provided will be protected and health records will only be shared after authorisation by an individual. Well after the claims made in the case of Aadhaar, we shall all take this one with a pinch of salt. 



What is the National Digital Health Mission? Will it Prove to be a Game Changer for the Healthcare Sector in India?



Blast from the Past

The announcement finds its roots in the National Health Policy 2017, which had envisaged the creation of a digital health technology ecosystem aimed at developing an integrated health information system that serves the needs of all stakeholders and improves efficiency, transparency and citizens’ experience with linkage across public and private healthcare. 

Within this backdrop, Central Government’s think tank NITI Aayog, in June 2018, had floated a consultation of a digital backbone for India’s health system - National Health Stack.


Will the National Digital Health Mission Prove be a Game Changer for the Healthcare Sector in India?

An obvious benefit of the NDHM will be the ease of not having to lug around bulky physical health records.  

A vital contribution however, will be to reduce the overall healthcare expenses for the citizens. For instance, there are numerous examples of patients moving from rural areas to bigger cities in search of better healthcare facilities. And in many such instances, patients are required to undergo tests again, including some very expensive ones. In some cases, the patient might not be carrying the reports of the previous tests or might have misplaced them. 

Digitisation of all health records would help to reduce duplicity of tests to a large extent, and availability of a patient’s history can be helpful to avoid unwarranted tests. 

A centralised record will also help to ascertain greater accountability on the part of the hospital administration, thereby ensuring accurate and quality treatment. 

Now while many leading hospitals, diagnostic chains, medical insurance companies and State and Central Government do maintain a digital health record these days, most of this data is stored in a siloed manner in individual servers and is not interactive or is shared in a seamless manner. 

In addition to this, digitisation of records can over time also lead to the automation process of insurance claims. Simultaneously, access to detailed health records can help health insurance companies better underwrite policies and the price premiums more dynamically.

Provision for e-pharmacy and telemedicine would enable doctors and other health practitioners to prescribe medicines on call, relieving patients of the trouble of visiting the medical facility, especially in rural areas. 

Indu Bhushan, Chief Executive Officer, National Health Authority, said, “The core building blocks of NDHM such as Health ID, Digi-Doctor and Health Facility Registry shall be owned, operated and maintained by the Government of India. Private stakeholders will have an equal opportunity to integrate with these building blocks and create their own products for the market."

This is also likely to push the growth and development of healthtech startups in India in a more structured fashion. 

Word of Caution: UK’s National Health Service (NHS) had begun the deployment of electronic health record systems in 2005, with the goal to have all patients with a centralised electronic health record by 2010. While several hospitals had acquired electronic patient records systems as part of this process, there was no national healthcare information exchange. The program was ultimately dismantled after the cost of the program shot £12bn. It is considered one of the most expensive healthcare IT failures.


Bottom Line

As with multiple other schemes launched by the Government, the concern around management of data and privacy issues shall remain. However, if implemented in a thorough and structured manner, NDHM can (sorry...may) truly overhaul the healthcare system in India.


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