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What we must consider before digitising India’s healthcare

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The National Digital Health Mission – announced by the Prime Minister on Independence Day — aims to develop the backbone needed for the integrated digital health infrastructure of India. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, a well-functioning personal health data infrastructure can play a key role in public health management. Developing countries like India, with significant health challenges, perhaps need such an infrastructure the most. This can help not only with diagnostics and management of health episodes, but also with broader public health monitoring, socio-economic studies, epidemiology, research, prioritising resource allocation and policy interventions. Digitisation can’t be a substitute for the fundamentals — for example, investment in nutrition and welfare, primary healthcare services and healthcare professionals – but it can certainly make healthcare more organised, efficient, and effective.

However, before we start designing databases and APIs and drafting laws, we must be mindful of certain considerations for design choices and policies to achieve the desired social objectives.

First, the theory of pathways to “public good” needs to be carefully developed. This should not be based on mere claims and opinions but on rigorous scrutiny and peer review. There must be a careful examination of how exactly digitisation may facilitate better diagnosis […]

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