India Is At the Cusp Of a Healthcare Revolution. Needs a Pat On the Back

The healthcare sector is looking at the Union Budget 2022 to bring India's next digital revolution in healthcare to make India the next global healthcare hub

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India is witnessing an evolution in consumer behaviour and a rise in the demand for digital solutions and services in almost every sector. The healthcare sector is also going through a similar digital revolution. The government of India, in last couple of years has promoted teleconsultation and introduced several policy stimuli to drive digital transformation of our healthcare ecosystem. Digital healthcare delivery can dramatically improve patient experience and allow easy access to holistic and personalised care, regardless of location.

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In the previous Budget, the government of India paid special attention to the healthcare sector and came up with several programs and enhanced budgetary allocation. This year the healthcare sector is looking at the Union Budget 2022 with great expectations and a vision of bringing India’s next digital revolution in healthcare to make India the next global healthcare hub:

Higher budget allocation

In the previous Budget, the total allocation for the healthcare sector stood around INR 2.23 lakh crore. This year, the sector is expecting a 10-15 per cent hike on it to build robust healthcare infrastructure in partnership with private healthcare players across the country. Several central government initiatives like e-Sanjeevani telemedicine service and Delhi Government’s Mohalla Clinics have delivered encouraging results in providing quality healthcare in remote areas, and must be scaled up further. Similar infrastructure supported by latest healthcare technology, which is otherwise only available in urban centers, must be made accessible to rural citizens as well. This will not only help us combat any future COVID waves but also fulfil the vision of providing affordable yet quality healthcare for all.

GST reduction

India has one of the most extensive healthcare sectors in the world, however affordable healthcare is still a challenge. One of the foremost budget demands the sector has is to reduce the GST on healthcare services to the lowest bracket, with exemptions for weaker sections like senior citizens and EWS.

Further, reduction in GST on health insurance would also encourage more people to subscribe. Considering the events of the past 24 months, the need for health insurance for the masses cannot be discounted.

Investment in cutting-edge tech

Healthcare players expect the government to announce schemes that encourage investment in R&D as well as deep technology like AI & ML, robotics and telehealth infrastructure to improve healthcare delivery and its access to the entire country. Hospitals and health centers must be incentivised to build cutting edge IT infra which not only provides latest treatments and medical equipment but also assures end-to-end health data security. This will also augur well for the health id scheme recently announced under NDHM.

Aggressive and planned implementation of National Digital Health Mission (NDHM)

I believe NDHM can become the cornerstone for innovation in India’s healthcare sector. The sector expects that there will be quick, yet planned implementation of the mission in this budget. For this mission to succeed, the Government needs to invest heavily in creating digital infrastructure in the country.

Support healthtech startups

Startups are playing and will continue to play a significant role in improving healthcare research, delivery, quality & accessibility through frugal innovation. However, for the start-ups to emerge and flourish, support from the government is extremely important. Subsidies, interest-free loans, and tax holidays are some of the schemes that the government should announce to encourage entrepreneurship in the sector and further increasing the turnover limit from INR 100 crore to INR 150 crore to fall under the startup category would be another welcome move.

Better preparedness for health emergencies

The catastrophic impact of COVID-19 exposed India’s vulnerability against the wrath of a global pandemic. It is not the first time that something like the coronavirus has overwhelmed the world and it is perhaps not the last. The government should make agencies like National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) and its state sister concerns, which act as first responders in times of national emergency, stronger through quick decision making powers. It is equally important that these agencies are led by experts from relevant domains who can use their experience & knowledge in taking decisions. These agencies should also have periodical knowledge exchange programs with similar agencies in developed countries to keep abreast with latest technology and global development. A sizeable fund must be available at their behest to be used for acquiring equipment necessary for minimizing disaster impact and rescue missions.

Conclusion

India is at the cusp of a healthcare revolution, and in order to keep this development on track the policymakers must develop a framework that embraces a holistic approach taking into account interest of all stakeholders, and which underscores more on the execution of measures. This eco-system must integrate innovation and policy at the best convergence to enable agile and technologically advanced innovation in this important sector.