“Innovative technologies are changing the face of healthcare in the country by enabling healthcare practitioners to automate operations and provide healthcare services in a cost-effective manner,” says Shripad Yesso Naik, Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare in an exclusive interview with Mohd Ujaley
What is your view of eHealth in the country? Do you think that we are making adequate progress in deploying new technologies for improving the scope and quality of healthcare?
There can be a difference of opinion on what we have been able to achieve with the help of technology in healthcare sector. However, everyone will agree that technology is the way forward. In a populous and geographically large country like India, the healthcare sector is bound to face many challenges. For meeting these challenges in a cost-effective way, we need to deploy latest technology. Today there are many innovations that make it possible for us to improve the scope and quality of the existing systems and bring down the actual cost of delivering healthcare.
For instance, today our primary healthcare centres are taking care of different types of patients, some of these patients are those who may require a referral to any advanced hospital for undergoing complicated treatment—in all such cases, telemedicine can be used for providing a seamless connection between the primary healthcare centre and the district healthcare centre or even with expert medical practitioners based in any part of the country. By enabling proper diagnosis and smooth referral, such a system will make life easy for people living in remote areas of the country.
Understanding the importance of technology, we have proposed to set up a National e-Health Authority (NeHA), which will be responsible for development of an Integrated Health Information System and enforcing the laws & regulations relating to the privacy and security of the patients health information & records. The Authority will help us to integrate multiple health IT systems in a way that ensures security, confidentiality and privacy of patient data. This has potential to replace the the present practice of patients undergoing fresh tests every time they switch doctors as a centralised electronic health record repository of all citizens will ensure that the health history and status of all patients would always be available to all health institutions. This would also expedite diagnosis and treatment.
The cost of quality healthcare is on the rise. What steps is Ministry of Health and Family Welfare taking to ensure that all sections of society have access to healthcare services?
Our National Healthcare Policy 2015, clearly states that our vision is to ensure the availability of quality and affordable healthcare in the country. Under the new tax devolution formula, share of state governments in central taxes has increased from 32% to 42%. This will enable the states to provide more funding to their healthcare projects. Recently the government launched the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana for ensuring that everyone in the country has access to financial services. This scheme will greatly improve the ability of the people to get health insurance and accident insurance.
Most doctors are reluctant to serve in the smaller towns and rural areas. Do you think that technology can be deployed to cover the shortfall of doctors that certain areas in the country constantly face?
Certainly, technology is the way out. Innovative technologies are changing the face of healthcare in the country by enabling healthcare practitioners to automate their operations and provide effective healthcare services in a cost-effective manner. Telemedicine can be deployed to enable people living in smaller towns and rural areas to remotely consult with expert doctors, who are mostly based in urban centres. We are developing telemedicine systems that will allow patients in remote locations to get connected with expert doctors and have their entire diagnosis done. This government believes in promoting both, the modern and as well as the traditional systems for meeting the healthcare related needs of the people. That is why we are focusing on both, AYUSH and new technologies.
The Ministry of AYUSH has been recently created. What are the key objectives of the ministry?
Earlier AYUSH was a department within the ministry, but now with the vision of providing affordable healthcare to the entire country, the government has created a separate Ministry of AYUSH, which deals with the aspects of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy. Lot of initiatives are being taken under this ministry—the result of the work that is being done will soon become visible. We are devising a policy for using paramedical staffs, AYUSH doctors and alternate medicine practitioners to provide healthcare to the people. This kind of system can lead to early diagnosis and a flawless system of referral to district level or larger hospitals.
Currently AYUSH does not have a regulatory body. So how do you plan to ensure quality, standardisation and compliance?
There is no doubt that a regulatory body is must for ensuring quality, compliance and standardisation in the delivery of healthcare services. We have formed a task-force to look into the intricacies of creating a regulatory body. The task-force is expected to submit its report in six months and after that we will have a regulatory body. We are also planning to establish a highest body in every stream of AYUSH. The body will ensure quality and compliance in its stream and thereby improve the credibility of the system. Today, the AYUSH doctors are in dilemma, they do not have enough job opportunity and job security and that is why they are unable to match the confidence of an MBBS doctors. We are aware of all the challenges and we are taking the necessary measures to overcome these challenges. Our vision is that every state should have one national level AYUSH institute. In Delhi, we are already building an AYUSH AIIMS. Within a six month, we will inaugurate the building.