India’s attempts at a complete shift from manual to technology-based healthcare services are being stymied by challenges ranging from a lack of funds to accessibility and quality assurance.
The government’s ambitious scheme Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), which aims to foster a paperless and cashless system, will need a major pool of funds to become technology-enabled though its budget has been increased by 166% this year, according to health experts.
“Technology has become the backbone for Ayushman Bharat as the entire system is cashless and paperless. It provides health insurance of ₹5 lakh per year to poor and vulnerable people identified as per the socio-economic caste census for secondary and tertiary care. With over 50 crore population entitled to this, technology is going to become an even bigger market," said Indu Bhushan, chief executive officer, AB-PMJAY and National Health Agency at the ministry of health and family welfare. “However, technology-based healthcare will cost more money and, therefore, both healthcare providers and other stakeholders should be prepared to balance this high cost as financial allocation would be much needed. Also, technological innovations in healthcare need to be backed by a robust policy framework," he said.
A funding crunch for technology-enabled healthcare service delivery systems is apparent, with a significant curtailment in technology-related programmes in terms of healthcare in the budget for 2019-20 presented last week. Initially ₹30 crore was allocated in 2018-19 (actual budget) for the Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT) scheme. However, this was reduced to ₹5 crore in the revised budget for 2018-19. This came down further to a meagre ₹3 crore in the 2019-20 budget. The programme aims to promote and support translation of innovative ideas and knowledge into deployable technology in healthcare.
A similar funding crunch has hit telemedicine, which is the use of electronic information to provide and support healthcare beyond geographies, time, and social barriers. In 2018-19, the budget for telemedicine was ₹55 crore. This was reduced to ₹45 crore in 2019-20. “Telemedicine is a great technology. Despite having mobile penetration in rural India, there is no internet and speed to run telemedicine services. As a result of little awareness, many people are unable to use several apps launched by the Union health ministry for health services," said a senior health ministry official who did not wish to be named.
A report released by the Confederation of Indian Industry on artificial intelligence on Monday projects the healthcare sector to grow to $280 billion by 2020 but that technology-based healthcare is facing major challenges. “AI in healthcare is increasing human capacity instead of replacing human labour. AI applications face certain challenges as they require an effective framework of laws to govern privacy and data integrity," the report said.