NDHM: A game-changer in ensuring universal health coverage in the country

The days of people standing in long queues at health facilities carrying multiple medical reports will become a thing of the past in this digital- and patient-friendly ecosystem, writes Gaurav Gupta

About Author: Gaurav Gupta, Co-Founder & COO,  Navia Life Care. Gaurav leads the business team at Navia and is passionate about building a quality solution for the healthcare industry. Prior to this, Gaurav has successfully built two sustainable businesses, one being an enterprise solution for large billion-dollar enterprises and the other being a consumer product. An MBA from Indian School of Business, and an engineer from NSIT Delhi, Gaurav specializes in Strategy, Business Development and Marketing.

The Indian healthcare sector has been witnessing an encouraging push towards its transformation and development. Bold moves in the technology industry are steadily integrating into healthcare systems, redefining the existing healthcare delivery models. According to the estimates, the healthcare industry is growing at a phenomenal rate and expected to reach 372 billion dollars by 2022. The major contributing factors including Government initiatives and technological advancements are continuing to move the industry on its growth trajectory.
The conventional healthcare system had major hindrances that slowed down the overall development of the sector. Concerns such as a low doctor-to-patient ratio, unstructured system, and other barriers associated with accessibility and affordability of healthcare services required immediate redressal. As part of the technological revolution in the industry, the government envisions creating a digitized healthcare ecosystem to fulfill universal health coverage in the country.

NDHM – The blueprint

Healthcare is one of the most essential sectors for the socio-economic development of any country. The vision to make healthcare services available for all can only be fulfilled by achieving universal health coverage. According to WHO, the concept of universal health coverage means that all people have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. To make universal health coverage a reality, the government has launched National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) which is focused on developing robust digital healthcare infrastructure.  
For many decades, the Indian healthcare sector was posed with many challenges in achieving universal health coverage. With the launch of NDHM, the government aims to create an integrated online platform with national footprints that is significantly going to improve efficiency, accessibility, and delivery of all healthcare services in the country. Being a people-centered healthcare mission, NDHM connects the primary stakeholders including hospitals and clinics, labs and pharmacies, TPAs insurers, health tech companies, modern medicine, and AYUSH doctors, and Central and State Government, program managers, regulators, associations, and development partners, and NGOs. Additionally, it allows the patient to store and access their medical records that are shareable with healthcare providers, provides access to information on health facilities, doctors, and services such as teleconsultation and e-pharmacies.
NDHM’s implementation
In a country like India, achieving universal health coverage has always been daunting due to its population scattered in urban and rural areas. Concerns such as low digital literacy, low internet connectivity, and accessibility to healthcare professionals make the implementation of any health mission difficult in remote areas. Taking such factors into account, NDHM works on four core modules – HealthID, DigiDoctor, Health Facility Registry, and Telemedicine. It is expected to aid all stakeholders to move from a conventional to a digitized healthcare system while ensuring a preventive healthcare delivery model.
Presently, the government has rolled out NDHM on a pilot basis in 6 UTs – Puducherry, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Ladakh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Daman and Diu, and Lakshadweep. Considering the selected UTs face constant connectivity and other challenges, the government’s awareness-building campaigns are going to build adequate digital literacy in rural areas.
Major implications and benefits for the general public
NDHM is intended to move India towards a digital healthcare society. By leveraging new-age technologies, the mission improves the quality of healthcare delivery by enabling the doctors and hospitals to access the patient’s medical history and increasing the availability and accessibility of consultation through telemedicine. If implemented in a structured manner, NDHM can create a robust digital healthcare system for effective resource planning as well as disease management.
For patients, the mission aims to simplify access to their records and enables them to share digitally-stored comprehensive health profiles with providers for treatment and follow-up purposes. Currently, people find it difficult to maintain long trails of paper-based records for health interventions like immunization, especially over long periods of time, or when they move from one part of the country to another. Yet, these records are critical for monitoring an individual’s health status and ensuring continuity in treatment. Being a one-stop for a patient’s medical records, there will be reduced expenditure on repeated tests and irrelevant medication. On the other hand, it will be time-saving for doctors to analyze a patient’s health condition and make an informed decision. Furthermore, the democratization of data will receive special attention to data privacy and protection, thereby making the platform fair and highly secure for all stakeholders. Undoubtedly, the availability of health care infrastructure and service delivery needs to be strengthened across the country. However, technological empowerment and digitization can most certainly enable more effective and efficient utilization of existing facilities.
The days of people standing in long queues at health facilities carrying multiple medical reports will become a thing of the past in this digital- and patient-friendly ecosystem, empowered by world-class technologies. Access to patient records will now be just a click away for doctors. This will lead to better patient outcomes as doctors will have access to proper medical records in an organized manner resulting in improved clinical decision-making abilities. One advantage NDHM will bring for the whole population is enabling artificial intelligence-based predictive analytics on population health level which may help us to predict disease with high incidence rate and take the correct precautionary measures at right time.
The unprecedented scale of NDHM makes it a prerequisite for obtaining universal health coverage in the country. The proper implementation of the mission can not only bring healthcare to people’s homes but also help in empowering them to make better decisions for their health. Additionally, boosting the concept of e-pharmacies and telemedicine through NDHM is going to fuel the sector’s overall growth.