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The Need for Digital Healthcare in India

India is a vast country that has perplexing socio-economic features which are indicated in medical systems. Every 6th person in the world lives in India. Understanding the esteem of the health system in a country is crucial to both national and international health because the competitiveness and accessibility is highly fluctuating for distinct segments of the population. Digital healthcare in India is primarily embattled in remote locations where modern medicine is not easily reachable and it has the potential to improve the quality of health care. Many programs need to be set-up and they will have a sustainable impact only if government involvement and support is there for further advancement especially in rural areas.

In this blog, the author shall explain how digital healthcare is important for delivering value-based care across the healthcare continuum in India. The author shall discuss some reports made by various organizations which show that most Indians do not currently benefit from digital healthcare. Next, the author shall explain the historical evolution of digital healthcare since the 20th century. After this the author will highlight the major initiatives taken by the Government of India which help in reducing the stress-level of patients and medical professionals. Finally, the author shall highlight the applications of digital healthcare that very soon will reach their true potential.

According to the 15-country Future Health Index (FHI), India is a global leader in digital health technology.  Research has found that about half (49%) of all Indians do not know about the benefits of digital healthcare such as mobile health apps, etc. In order to learn the benefits and become willing to adopt telehealth, providing education and information will be vital in taking Indians along this digital healthcare journey. A study revealed that when Indian healthcare professionals are supported by digital healthcare, they get more exposure which means their patient’s experiences improve.  The study found that about 67% of Indians reported an increase in convenience when taking medical advice from healthcare professionals through a healthcare application on their phones or other electronic devices.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says in a report that India needs three-times the doctors that it has now. The ratio of doctors to patients is currently 1 doctor for every 10,000 patients which shows that there is a need to increase the number of doctors in India.

India is now embarking on an  adventure to bridge the gap between haves and have not’s by operating digital health tools and initiatives.  It has the potential to transfigure or modernize the interaction between populations and National Health Services. The Government of India has been attempting several health initiatives in the field of digital healthcare.

In the first half of the 20th century, we find the earliest record of telemedicine when an ECG was transmitted over a telephone.  Telephone played a crucial role in starting modern medicine as we know it. From then until recent times, digital healthcare has come a long way. Telemedicine was considered to be far away from providing prognosis and treatment patients by way of using telecommunication devices.

  • In 1924, Radio News Magazine was introduced. It was a type of communication with microphone and TV with Medical Professionals
  • In 1959, the first face time video consultation was used to transmit neurological examinations at the University of Nebraska.
  • In 1997, at Yale University MITAC (Medical Informatics and Technology Applications Consortium) was established.
  • NASA and ISRO also played a major role in telemedicine during the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake, and during Soviet Armenia Earthquake in 1988.

Though telemedicine has not been the solution for all of the problems in Indian healthcare, it did help to significantly reduce the burden on the healthcare system. In this way we can see that telemedicine has been a part of Indian healthcare since the 20th Century.  It has not only brought the world closer but has also helped eliminate distance as a barrier in the attainment of quality healthcare.

Online delivery of health services is at the core of any digital health ecosystem. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has been taking many productive initiatives in the field of digital health. Many digital platforms are being introduced to ensure continuity of care and other connected benefits to mitigate the shortage of health human resources, affordability of healthcare services, and accessibility of healthcare frameworks.

Some eHealth initiatives for the public healthcare of India are:

  • Vaccine tracker mobile application: This app helps parents to check immunization progress of their children and provides reminders for upcoming vaccinations.
  • The India fights Dengue mobile application: This app gives direction about the identification of symptoms of dengue and helps connect the users to the nearest blood banks and hospital.
  • The Swasth Bharat mobile application: This app gives details about living a healthy life, diseases and their symptoms, and how any specific disease should be treated, and also gives information about things that may alter health.
  • Kilkaari application: This app helps in sending audio messages about the pregnancy, birth of child, care of the child directly to the parents and families of the child.

In addition to these initiatives there have been many initiatives developed by the Indian Government to ease the problems arising for remote locations, where travelling conditions are tough and difficult. These initiatives include Online Registration System, E-Rakt Kosh, Anm Online (ANMOL), and many more applications to help reduce the stress levels of the public and medical professionals.

In 2005, the National Health Ministry of India set-up various initiatives and projects like Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Arogyasree (Internet-Based Mobile Medicine) which connects multiple hospitals and medical professionals from rural and urban areas, NeHA (National eHealth Authorities) to achieve high quality health services, and Village Resource Center (VRC), developed by ISRO for tele-education and connecting specialty hospitals and expert doctors to the villages.

In 2013, the MoHFW developed Electronic Health Record to ensure safe data records during telecommunication medicine.

AYUSH, also called Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, was implemented in 2015 in order to promote the traditional methods of healing to a larger population through telecommunication. It was the backbone of Ayushman Bharat Yojna. Today, the following applications are used in digital healthcare:

    • Facetime: Where both sender and receiver are online at the same point of time and there is a live transfer of information occurs.
    • Store and Forward Healthcare Tips: Here, the sender stores the information and sends it to the receiver or user at any convenient point of time and the receiver can review the data according to their convenience.
    • Remote Monitoring Type Digi-Healthcare: It is also known as self-testing. It uses a range of electronical devices to observe the health and clinical signs of a patient remotely.

With these tools, health professionals can access specialty healthcare, referral and consultation services from another health professional easily. Health professionals can give information to unreached patients by giving them access to these tools.

Digital healthcare cannot be a solution for every problem. However, it can be crucial in addressing a far range of problems. Services like facetime, and store and forward healthcare tips are proving to be wonders in the field of digital healthcare. National and international digital healthcare initiatives are bringing the world closer. It has been proven to create no barrier in obtaining quality health-care. Lack of awareness, acceptance and access of new technology by the general population of India and medical professionals are holding this technology back despite it having so much potential.

The Indian government, having keen interests in developing more and more telemedicine advancements have started many initiatives in the hopes that Digital Healthcare in India will reach its true potential.

 

Shailee Mishra is a a second year, Law (B.A.LL.B. Honors) student at the University of Allahabad in Allahabad, India.

 

Suggested citation: Shailee Mishra, The Need for Digital Healthcare in India, JURIST – Student Commentary, May 21, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/shailee-mishra-digital-healthcare-india/.


This article was prepared for publication by Matthew Fischer, Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to him at commentary@jurist.org


Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.