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Industry needs to start assessing opportunities & challenges in digital ecosystem: Experts

Gireesh Babu, New Delhi
Tuesday, May 3, 2022, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

A vibrant digital health ecosystem can not only ease access to health services, making ubiquitous and streamlined, but also reduce out of pocket expenses in the long term and healthcare industry players should start assessing the opportunities and risks they could face, say experts from data and analytics major IQVIA.

In a recent blog post, Nachiketa Dash, manager, digital health consulting, and Anurag Saxena, principal and head, digital health consulting, South Asia, IQVIA, said that a vibrant digital health ecosystem could drastically reduce the cost of transactions and verifications for healthcare providers and exponentially increase accessibility to affordable health cover for all, aiding India’s journey towards Universal Health Coverage.

"This could be a major opportunity for market players while causing disruption for established practices and players. It would be prudent for all industry players to start assessing the opportunities and risks they could face," they said.

Quoting estimates by FICCI that the implementation of a digital health ecosystem could unlock an incremental economic value of over $200 billion in the coming decade, it said that India already has close to 5,000 healthtech startups.  

"There is scope for innovation from the entire healthcare stakeholder spectrum, including traditional players like hospitals and labs, startups, members of the manufacturing value chain, or payers and providers," added the experts.

Digital health initiatives in other countries have been in varied forms, either largely centrally controlled like the NHS in UK, or leading to aggregation of health information in the hands of a few major private players such as in the US. By adopting a unique open digital health ecosystem approach, India is instead providing a level playing field for all.

In such an ecosystem, government health entities and private health providers can unlock new mechanisms for providing better care to people, they added.

India also have proved its experience in designing and implementing national digital systems in the financial sector. Following the same path, in a few years the healthcare digital could also become increasingly mature and could be in a position to leverage the existing digital public resources such as Aadhaar (identity), UPI (payments), DigiLocker (storage), e-Sign (verification), etc.

"An integrated digital ecosystem will allow patients to access and share their health records across the ecosystem, based on consent. Longitudinal health history of a patient could not only help prevent repeated expensive/invasive tests but could also provide doctors a clearer picture to help provide better care. With consent-based sharing of health records, patients could benefit from innovative offerings targeting wellness, preventive, and/or curative care," added the blog post.

However, this could also call for robust privacy and security mechanisms to be incorporated from the design stage itself.

"Mechanisms to control the access to records based on granular patient consent and modalities to enable even offline access will be essential in driving security, flexibility, and inclusivity for citizens," it averred.

The big data could also help public health stakeholders for targeted interventions, early warning systems etc. When the health data gets standardised and shift towards a machine-readable format, it could enable the implementation of a Health Claims Platform. Reducing the time and cost of processing claims could be a major asset in helping healthcare payers and providers serve a greater number of Indians, it said.

Creation of a National Digital Health Ecosystem as per the Union Budget 2022 could help in emergence of innovation in digital health across healthcare delivery, diagnostics, wellness, ambulatory care, wearables, and many more. Telemedicine could also greatly reduce the cost of out of pocket expenses for patients which is a major barrier to accessing healthcare today.

Government health programs are also actively integrating with the ecosystem. Availability of an individual’s longitudinal health history would help both public and private healthcare providers in better decision making.

"If the digital health domain follows a similar trajectory as unified payments, it could enable easy access to teleconsultations in rural areas, seamless sharing of digital health records, and auto-adjudication of claims, within the next five to ten years. Public health services and researchers could also stand to greatly benefit from this mission. Even medical tourism could get a fillip from this initiative, formalizing cross border assisted consultations or second opinions," they added.

However, there are major challenges in digitizing public health in India. It will have to continue to balance concerns of privacy and security, challenges of limited infrastructure, and entrenched behaviour of various stakeholders. Challenges have resulted in mixed responses when similar initiatives were attempted in other nations.

"However, if the implementation is successful, this could very well impact the way India manages its health services going forward, and bears keeping a close watch on," added the experts.


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