Digitizing health in India for more effective and patient-centric care

The world increasingly relies on technology to solve its most pressing problems. In the context of global health, technology’s potential to support equitable, affordable, and effective health care systems is endless. This intersection between technology and health is called “digital health.”

In an implementation, digital health applies technology-based solutions in the form of

(1) hardware, such as smartphone-enabled pacemakers, portable vital sign monitors, remote analyzers for blood or urine samples, and screening devices;

(2) software, including mobile health applications and platforms, behavior change solutions, dashboards, and self-learning/e-training platforms; (3) services that provide end-to-end health solutions using a combination of hardware and software development.

Globally, digital health is redefining health care systems by scaling the use of analytics, such as decision-making and predictive dashboards for caseload prediction and disease control; artificial intelligence and machine learning, such as solutions that can scan X-rays, automatically identify disease traces, and use notification based nudges to move users towards positive behavioral change and health outcomes; and systems thinking, such as the use of multiple digital health platforms to strengthen health systems and improve a patient’s journey.

In India, for example, the government is applying these digital health developments through the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission—a comprehensive digital health service that is laying the foundation for the country’s digital health ecosystem. PATH is working closely with the government to support these digitization efforts with the goal of developing feasible, long-term, patient-centric initiatives.

With this objective in mind, PATH has adopted the following threefold approach to digitizing its health programs in India.

PATH’s approach to digital health in India

Optimal and customized solutions

Not every solution requires reinventing the wheel. The current health ecosystem has multiple open frameworks, digital public goods, and open licenses to build upon. Disease and intervention areas, however, seldom require identical solutions. Therefore, at PATH, we approach our digital health work by first trying to understand where we can learn from the current ecosystem and making sure our solutions are tailored to the problem at hand.

Human-centered design

In every digital health initiative, the patient remains central to the problem-solving journey—that is, their voice and perspective must be included and integrated at all touchpoints.

Collaborations and partnerships

The role of partnerships in developing as well as scaling digital health initiatives is imperative for any health program. This approach focuses on leveraging existing technologies that can be adapted through collaborations with partners—for example, technology startups. At the same time, it also calls for building partnerships that could help achieve scales, such as those with governments, donors, funders, and more.

Transforming health care through digital health

Dashboard to predict early warning signals of an outbreak

Vector-borne diseases continue to contribute to the disease burden in Uttar Pradesh. PATH has been working in the state to ensure access to health care services and reduce the prevalence of these diseases. To further sharpen and expand the interventions, in 2020 and 2021, PATH (through the Centre for Health Research and Innovation) launched the Monitoring Dashboard for Malaria, Chikungunya, and Dengue for its Dengue, Chikungunya Control and Malaria Elimination Project in Uttar Pradesh.

This powerful dashboard, based on artificial intelligence and natural language processing, provides a broad view of the prevailing disease burden in the state and generates nudges on predefined indicators in various districts and neighborhoods. The early warning signals help curtail outbreaks at the nascent stage and contribute to the planning, implementing, and monitoring of project activities at the blocks and districts that report the outbreak.

By Rishabh Chopra and Varun Kaul (PATH India)

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