The Government of India recently launched National Digital Health Mission (NDHM). The idea behind the mission is to spread the web of digital healthcare in India and make it available to every Indian citizen. Due to our large population, vast area and low healthcare per capita investment, providing healthcare for all has historically been a challenge. NDHM is a significant step to overcome this challenge by creating a digital healthcare ecosystem at a national level.
NDHM has provisions like Health ID, Digi-Doctor, Health Facility Registry (HFR), Personal Health Records (PHR) and Electronic Medical Records. Under this scheme, citizens will have a unique health ID to store all their medical history for treatment continuity or referencing past medical records more conveniently under the same ID. The Digi-doctor facility will carry forward the success of telemedicine during the Covid-19. As announced by Prime Minister Modi, e-Sanjeevani, the Union Health Ministry’s telemedicine service, served over 50 lakh patients during lockdown.
Role of AI and ML
Of all the digital technologies, two technologies have stood out in their application and performance, Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Although AI and ML have revolutionised and changed the face of many sectors, their application in digital healthcare is of critical importance. AI/ML have significantly contributed to clinical research capabilities to help accurately identify critical illness in its first stage through simple diagnostic test results. Healthcare players are now realizing the importance of AI & ML and are working towards further enhancing its capabilities by feeding real-time use cases treated at their facilities. Every new such data fed in the system makes it more intelligent and capable of dealing with a wide variety of disease management to aid faster and better diagnosis and decision making.
AI-enabled chatbots can coach patients from the comfort of their homes by bridging important knowledge gaps about administering medical treatments effectively or by assisting them with simple medical guidance at their convenience. This is important in times of emergency and for chronically ill patients. AI-based personal assistants helps remind patients of their medicine routine and alerting their caregiver in case of any anomaly in their health data. ML on the other hand has significant application in medical imaging, diagnosis of disease and robotic surgeries. AI and ML can also help in suggesting the best treatment based on the medical history and condition of the patient.
The real game-changers
One of the biggest criticisms of digital technologies over the years is that they lack common sense and human touch. Before the advent of AI and ML, this was mostly true. The lack of common sense and human touch had somewhat defined the limitation of digital technologies. Healthcare however, needs to have a human touch and critical thinking ability to realise its true potential. Life sciences seldom follow any rules and it is extremely difficult to predict how a patient’s body might react to a disease or what disease might evolve into in response to a certain treatment. To address this issue, digital technologies supported by AI & ML will have the proactive capability to think, anticipate and react.
Inclusion of AI and ML in the NDHM is going to be critical for the success of the mission and we can hope for a universally available, uniform, efficient and affordable healthcare system for all the citizens in the country.