India, with its massive population of over 1.4 billion people, is embracing technology to enhance healthcare access for its citizens. Recognizing the tremendous growth potential of the country, world leaders, corporations, regulators, and investors have realized India’s future economic prowess.
To address the incredible challenge of providing affordable and quality healthcare to so many people, the Indian government has prioritized the use of technology.
The Ayushman Bharat Initiative
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the “Ayushman Bharat” program, aiming to establish universal health coverage for its citizens. This initiative comprises two key components: the establishment of Health and Wellness Centers (HWCs) offering primary and diagnostic care, and the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojna (PM-JAY) providing secondary and tertiary care coverage to over 550 million people.
The program leverages technology through the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) to create an integrated digital health infrastructure. The Indian government launched the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) in September 2021.
ABDM is a transformative initiative that aims to leverage technology to streamline healthcare processes, ensure data privacy and security, and create an interoperable and standards-based digital system.
The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission
In May, the National Health Authority of India made a significant announcement stating that more than 100 health programs and digital health applications have successfully integrated with the ADBM. This achievement marks a crucial milestone for the initiative.
ABDM serves as the foundation for a national digital health ecosystem, facilitating efficient and inclusive healthcare delivery. It has a crucial objective of establishing the essential foundation required to enable a comprehensive digital health infrastructure in India. Through the development of digital highways, ABDM aims to connect and bridge the existing gaps among various stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem.
By connecting various stakeholders such as healthcare technology companies, government regulators, care delivery organizations, and healthcare providers, ABDM promotes seamless collaboration. It enables secure health record management and offers user-friendly interfaces for accessing care. Notable partners, including Tata Medical and Diagnostics group and Apollo Hospital, contribute to the success of the digital architecture.
Key Building Blocks of ABDM
The ABDM is built on several essential building blocks that revolutionize healthcare delivery and empower individuals with comprehensive health records. These building blocks include:
Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA): ABHA is a 14-digit unique identification number that standardizes an individual’s identification process across healthcare providers and facilities. It enables the creation of longitudinal digital health records, giving doctors a better understanding of patients’ medical history and improving diagnosis and treatment.
Health Professional Registry (HPR): The HPR is a comprehensive database of healthcare professionals involved in delivering healthcare services across different medical systems. It connects healthcare professionals with digitally enabled services, facilitates telemedicine, and enhances the discoverability of qualified professionals.
Health Facility Registry (HFR): The HFR is a repository of health facilities, including hospitals, clinics, diagnostic laboratories, and pharmacies. It improves access to healthcare services by providing accurate information about available specialties, services, and contact details, fostering trust and facilitating empanelment with insurance agencies.
Drug Registry: ABDM is establishing a centralized repository of all approved drugs available in the Indian market. The drug registry ensures standardized drug information, reduces errors in drug identification and administration, and improves the overall healthcare-seeking experience.
Unified Health Interface (UHI): UHI is an open network that enables interoperability among various digital health services. Similar to the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), UHI allows patients to access and avail themselves of healthcare services from multiple providers through any application of their choice, promoting inclusivity and convenience.
India’s ‘Scan and Share’ Healthcare Initiative
The National Health Authority has come up with various ways to improve healthcare services under ABDM. One of these successful initiatives is called “Scan and Share,” which is now being used in over 450 government health facilities across the country.
With Scan and Share, patients can easily share their profile details with the hospital by scanning a unique QR Code using their phone camera or a special app like ABHA or Aarogya Setu. Once scanned, the hospital generates a token number and sends it to the patient’s chosen app as a notification.
At the same time, the token number is displayed on screens at the OPD registration counters for the patient’s convenience. Using this token number, patients can directly collect their outpatient slip (OP Slip) for doctor consultation without waiting in long queues at the registration counter.
Both new and old patients can use Scan and Share to share important information with the hospital, such as their name, age, gender, address, and mobile number. This simple process significantly reduces the time spent at the OPD registration counter, cutting down waiting times from an average of 50 minutes to just 4-5 minutes.
This alone could save a tremendous amount of time and money, leading to much improved expected outcomes for patients.
Moreover, it ensures that the hospital has accurate data in its records, making the healthcare process smoother and more efficient for everyone.
Overall, Scan and Share is a valuable initiative that aims to make accessing healthcare services in facilities much easier for citizens, addressing the persistent issues of long queues for registration, tests, and payment counters at hospitals.
Repurposing CoWIN and Aarogya Setu
To support the digitization drive and enhance public health delivery, the government is repurposing two of its flagship applications. Aarogya Setu, originally a contact tracking app for COVID-19, is being transformed into India’s health and wellness application.
CoWIN, widely used for COVID-19 vaccination, will serve as a health management information system for small doctor’s clinics and nursing homes. These initiatives aim to make digital health solutions easily accessible and convenient for citizens and healthcare professionals.
eSanjeevani: Empowering Telemedicine
One standout component of ABDM is eSanjeevani, the National Telemedicine Service initiated by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. This platform serves as the world’s largest telemedicine program, operating in two modes. Firstly, it allows healthcare professionals to seek specialized advice from peers, enhancing their expertise.
Secondly, eSanjeevani OPD connects patients with healthcare providers remotely, enabling convenient consultations from their homes. Since its launch, eSanjeevani has already benefited millions of patients, transforming healthcare accessibility in India.
India’s Progress and Global Lessons
India’s dedicated efforts in utilizing technology for universal healthcare coverage deserve commendation. The country’s healthcare approach, considering its population size, diverse culture, and economic factors, presents valuable lessons for other nations.
Despite comparisons to Western countries, India achieves remarkable healthcare outcomes while prioritizing cost-effectiveness. As India continues to innovate and refine its healthcare system, its technology-driven approach sets a global standard for delivering ideal healthcare.
The future of healthcare in India lies in digital transformation, and ABDM is at the forefront of this revolution. By ensuring reliability, affordability, and inclusivity, ABDM promotes transparency, accessibility, and improved healthcare outcomes.
It is essential for all stakeholders, including health technology players, hospitals, laboratories, policymakers, and civil society organizations, to collaborate and support ABDM’s implementation. Continued monitoring, evaluation, and impact assessment will help refine and improve the mission based on evidence and results.
ABDM is a game-changer for healthcare in India. With its innovative building blocks and collaborative approach, the technological initiative is laying the foundation for an integrated digital health infrastructure. By leveraging technology, ABDM aims to streamline healthcare processes, empower individuals with comprehensive health records, and drive positive health outcomes for all Indians.
As India embraces digital health, citizens, healthcare providers, innovators, and policymakers must adapt and support ABDM to enable individuals to take control of their health and ensure equitable access to quality healthcare services.
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