Digitized medicine to diagnose future India

Pan-India telemedicine network to be the forerunner

India is the second-most populous (1,352,642,280) country in the world. Area-wise (3,287,263 sqkm) it is the 7th largest country in the world, sharing land borders with Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bhutan. The Supreme Court (SC) of India has held that the right to live with human dignity, enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution is derived from directive principles of state policy and therefore includes protection of health. The SC also held that the right to health is integral to the right to life and the government has a constitutional obligation to provide health facilities.However, with fast life styles, more Indians are getting ill and suffering from chronic diseases which need better health care facilities. None can deny that offering health services in this vast nation is a herculean task. What exactly the way is out is a million dollar question?
"In May 2016 India had tabled a resolution at WHO (which was supported by over 30 nations) that clearly signaled her intent to be a global leader in digital health. Digital health has the potential to revolutionize how populations interact with national health services and also strengthen health systems. India is now embarking on a futuristic journey to bridge the healthcare divide between 'have's and have-nots' using digital health tools," wrote Rajendra Pratap Gupta, then advisor to Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare.True to his prediction, 2019 saw influx of artificial intelligence, telemedicine and use of remote technology while 2020 accelerated digitization era with introduction of GoI sponsored Ayushmn Bharat Yojana (August 2018) & Mission Indradhanush (Dec 2018) schemes. The first scheme assures 90:10 support to north eastern states. More such schemes using digital tools and healthcare technology are now a foregone conclusion across India and NE cannot be an exception.
2019 saw influx of artificial intelligence, telemedicine and use of remote technology
Healthcare has become one of India's largest sector, both in terms of revenue and employment. Healthcare comprises hospitals, medical devices, clinical trials, outsourcing, telemedicine, medical tourism, health insurance and medical equipment. The Indian healthcare sector is growing at a brisk pace due to its strengthening coverage, services and increasing expenditure by public as well private players.India's competitive advantage lies in its large pool of well-trained medical professionals. India is also cost competitive compared to its peers in Asia and Western countries. India ranks 145 among 195 countries in terms of quality and accessibility of healthcare.The healthcare market can increase three-fold to Rs 8.6 trillion by 2022 while medical tourism market which is growing at 18% is expected to reach US$ 9 billion by 2020. There is a significant scope for enhancing healthcare services considering that kind of healthcare spending.Increased income, increased awareness of health, increased precedence of lifestyle diseases and enhanced access to insurance would catapult health sector growth. Health data is fast becoming all-encompassing and new tools and models emerging to serve well-networked laboratories. For instance, Health Bot Service, a cloud platform which provides instant access to patient data by healthcare professionals through secure interfaces and almost limitless storage and power. In seconds, a doctor can store information and access it as quickly as possible. If specifically requested by the patient, this procedure removes the need for hard copies. The cloud computing market which hit $8.5 billion in 2018 is expected to grow to more than $55 billion by 2025.
Representative image
Image: Representative image
GoI initiatives: Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) launched in 2018 to provide health insurance worth Rs 500,000 to over 100 million families every year, National Nutrition Mission (NNM) in 2017-18 with a three-year budget of Rs 9,046 crore to monitor, supervise, fix targets and guide nutrition related interventions across ministries are some stellar initiatives. The Union Budget 2020-21 allocated Rs 69,000 crore for health sector inclusive of Rs 6,400 crore for PMJAY. Further the Government of India aims to increase healthcare spending to 3% of GDP in 2022. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's (MoHFW's) Electronic Resource in Medicine (ERMED) consortium was set up in 2008 and perhaps the best initiative was launched in 2015 - Social Endeavour for Health and Telemedicine (SEHAT), a pan-India health initiative to connect 60,000 health institutions across India to provide service irrespective of the geographical location. Pan-India telemedicine network: Known as National Medical College network, it offers tele-education, e-learning and online medical consultation by using National Knowledge Network connectivity. It is a 'Hub and Spoke' model where state medical colleges/district hospitals (DH) have been upgraded as HUB for providing doctors/specialists and super-specialty consultation to spokes, which includes district hospitals, community health centres, primary health centres etc.
Considering that telemedicine very useful in healthcare delivery in under developed Sikkim, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram, Assam and Meghalaya, North Eastern Space Applications Centre (NESAC), a joint venture of Department of Space (DOS), ISRO and North Eastern Council was set up in 2000. It started the ISRO-NEC telemedicine project in 2004 utilizing satellite communication through V-SAT with a plan to commission 72 telemedicine regional nodal centers in all districts of north east. However, a total of 25 regional telemedicine centers have been commissioned so far and the remaining 47 are in various stages of implementation.

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