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Digital health witnessed significant progress in India even before COVID-19: NATHEALTH survey

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PPP, boost to digital startup, infrastructure and ensuring last-mile connectivity are some of the key recommendations

NATHEALTH – Healthcare Federation of India conducted a survey to understand the pre- COVID digital health scenario and provided insights into the current digital health scenario as well. The findings of the survey have implied that even before COVID-19 hit India, the move towards digital health was significant and COVID-19 has played a pivotal role in accelerating the pace and also made digital health usage non-negotiable in the present times. The survey also focuses on major challenges related to strengthening digital health footprint and identifying areas where interventions are needed.

Key findings of the survey highlight that consumers were already using digital health services and were demanding increasing convenience and control. Before COVID-19, 61 per cent of the patients were scheduling appointments through mobile apps and 70 per cent of patients were using digital technology methods to monitor their health at home. It also mentions that services like E- Pharmacy and Telehealth has played a pivotal role in making digital health a growing phenomenon in India and Government has also worked in pushing and enabling digital health. It was also observed that, not only there was a significant increase in usage of digital health by the patients, but physicians also saw a significant jump in use of digital tools to deliver patient care. An important point that came out from the survey was that Government’s Swasth app was being used prominently by the public and private players, plus the patients.

Preetha Reddy, President, NATHEALTH & Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals said, “The digital health survey results show that it’s paramount to put thrust on adoption and effective implementation of digital health programme in the country. We know that digital health has a special priority place in the Ayushman Bharat roadmap of the government. Digital health is globally successful phenomenon and India can adopt some of the best practices. For example, British Columbia, Canada, Estonia, Australia (esp. Queensland state), have achieved great levels of digital health and have found ways for the public and private sectors to work together and arrive at a win-win situation for digital healthcare delivery. We need to formulate a concise, precise, practical & futuristic digital health agenda together. To meet the need of the hour, a coherent digital pathway should be created, which can be useful for both public and private players.”

The survey also outlines top priorities to translate National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) into opportunities for the industry. Focus should be put on increasing awareness about the digital health platforms; strengthening regulatory framework, adoption and investment in digital health by building certain programmes,  creating a coherent digital pathway, which can be useful for both public and private players , mandating doctors (both public and private practitioners) to provide teleconsultation, incentivize the providers using digital medium, boost digi-tech infrastructure, support digital health start-ups, ensure data ownership to avoid cyber security issues in maintaining health data, work in tandem with the private players to grow the digital health footprint across the country.

It has been recommended that capacity building is required from both the regulatory and the industry side to take any level of work on digital health ahead and there is a need to bring together relevant stakeholders for this to be achieved. It also highlights that there is need for a strong dialogue among states to float digital health into their systems. Hospitals and healthcare providers need to realize that technology will only make them more effective and efficient, rather than being a hindrance or a cost addition.

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