Digital Health Mission a R1.5 trillion opportunity for India

16 November 2020 5 min. read

The government of India’s latest National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) is a step towards better healthcare transparency, interoperability, standardisation and innovation. According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and FICCI, these benefits can stack up to R1.5 trillion in economic value over the next decade.

India’s National Digital Health Mission was launched in August this year with the aim of reforming healthcare in India – currently plagued with key capacity and infrastructure issues. On average, hospitals in India have seven beds for every 100 patients, and one nurse for every 1000. Unsanitary conditions also push up the risk of acquiring infectious diseases while at a facility.

These gaps visibly translate into poor health outcomes. Be it life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal mortality or vaccinations against deadly illnesses, healthcare outcomes across core metrics in India compare poorly with those in major global markets. As healthcare consumption in India continues to soar, NDHM is a step towards covering these key deficits.

India suffers from poor health outcomes

Since launching, NDHM has been developing an open digital health ecosystem (ODE) – “a shared digital infrastructure that can be leveraged by both public and private enterprises to build and provide new, innovative, healthcare solutions,” explained Abheek Singhi, Managing Director & Senior Partner at BCG in Mumbai.

“Its key building blocks include standardised health registries, a unique patient Identity (ID), federated health records, interoperability, and automatic claim settlement engines,” he added. The BCG and FICCI report equates ODE’s key features to India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) – a “common infrastructure that allows presence-less, paperless and cashless transactions” across the country.

UPI was launched in 2016, and has since grown into one of the most advanced and inclusive payment systems in the world. According to the researchers, ODE has similar potential to bring about a paradigm shift in India’s healthcare sector, specifically by bringing improvements across five central pillars.

One is information transparency. Healthcare in India suffers from a lack of reliable data, and a unified health registry could be a point of reference for doctors, patients and insurers alike. Then there is interoperability. Patient care today is “siloed,” where each ailment is treated in isolation without considering patient history. A common health data system will allow various healthcare players to access a patient’s health records, putting each case in context.

A paradigm shift is occurring in Indian healthcare

Pillar number three deals with insurance, specifically the standardisation of claim processing. A centralised claims platform – rather than separate systems for individual insurers – could speed up the claims process and make it more transparent. The fourth theme of ODE is prescription digitalisation. A heavy tendency towards digital consultations and diagnosis – telemedicine – is already unfolding in India, and digitalising prescriptions wlll bring this entire ecosystem to a centralised platform.

Last on the list is the scope for innovation. Accounting for patient confidentiality, ODE data and building blocks will be open access, allowing everyone from healthcare incumbents to new tech startups to play around and develop solutions that could further improve the system. Combined, these factors are expected to usher in a paradigm shift in India’s healthcare ecosystem.

Online access and more players will drive down healthcare costs and improve access. With more time and capacity, the quality of healthcare is expected to improve, building more trust in the health system. Insurers will have to adapt to lower costs and more interconnected healthcare models, while benefiting from an easier and cheaper claims process.

Professionals will be able to focus better on the value of healthcare rather than volumes, while individual treatment will become more streamlined rather than the current siloed approach. Key players in this entire paradigm shift are the government, health professionals and insurers, while an emerging breed of HealthTech startups will play and increasingly central role in driving innovation.

Consumers are ready for digital healthcare

At the heart of the ecosystem lie the patients and consumers, who BCG reports are ready for this paradigm shift. The consulting firm surveyed 500 urban residents in August to gauge perspectives on digital healthcare, to find that most consumers are starting to prefer digital consultations. Patients are allured by the reduction in waiting times, availability of doctors, absence of infection risks and lower costs.

No doubt, the Covid-19 crisis and the ever looming risk of infection has brought these preferences front and centre. Reports have already suggested a boom in India’s eHealth sector as a result of the pandemic, which sets the stage for the comprehensive reform sought through ODE.

As mentioned in the report, “with improved health outcomes there will be an increase in productivity which will lead to an additional benefit of $200 - $250 billion to India’s GDP” over the next ten years. This translates into a R1.5 trillion opportunity at the very least.