The National Health Authority (NHA) intends to develop a digital platform, called Universal Health Interface (UHI), similar to Unified Payment Interface (or UPI) for interoperability between various digital solutions to facilitate various stakeholders using disparate solutions to communicate. Kiran Gopal Vaska, Director, NHA, spoke about the role and benefits of UHI in improving healthcare landscape of India. Edited excerpts from an interview.
BT: How with the help of UHI, operational efficiency of hospital networks can improve?
KGV: UHI is an open network designed to enable interoperable digital health service delivery like tele-consultations. The open network has the potential to increase the number of providers a patient can choose from. It can be designed such that the patients can choose any application of their choice, discover, and obtain services from any doctor or health provider of their choice in an ecosystem, regardless of the application being used by the health provider. By providing all of these, UHI can connect hospital networks. The objective of UHI is to connect two disparate systems which were earlier not working on the same platform. UHI builds on the existing building blocks of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, which helps seamless exchange of information between two entities upon the consent of the data principle. All one need to do is to subscribe to a set of APIs and follow certain set of standards. This will be a win-win situation where private hospitals would have access to medical records, and would be able to increase their reach, and provide services to rural India without having any physical presence.
BT: What are the benefits of UHI for different stakeholders?
KGV: Different stakeholders such as citizens, health providers, lab service providers, ambulance service providers, pharmaceutical drugs providers etc. will get benefitted from UHI by receiving access to information that otherwise is not easily available. The first and foremost benefit of UHI is being able to navigate and communicate with other third parties and other players in the system and being able to get information in a seamless manner. The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) aims to develop the backbone necessary to support the integrated digital health infrastructure of the country. It will bridge the existing gap amongst different stakeholders of the healthcare ecosystem through digital highways. So, that way it will bring in competition, efficiency, and will make life easier for everybody in this network. Stakeholders in the ecosystem may use the ABDM APIs to access, share and verify health records, healthcare professionals and healthcare facilities.
BT: How will UHI rollout increase digital health penetration in India?
KGV: UHI is an open and interoperable IT network through which people will use healthcare facilities through the online mode. If one wants to access one’s health records, that can be done through an application which can use the OCR technology to read all the reports depending on certain keywords. With the adoption of UHI, anybody with a connected device can access quality healthcare from anywhere and is no longer limited to locally available resources. The kind of data that will get created through this way will go a long way in improving vertical systems, diagnosis, getting more relevant data about drug usage, efficacy, efficiency, etc. UHI will play the role of a catalyst which will enable each stakeholder to adopt digitization or digital modes of health. All these will thus increase digital health penetration in India.
BT: What are the current challenges and future scope for development under UHI?
KGV: Digital health care services have some major issues like the digitalisation of health records and the challenge of adoption which are yet to be addressed. The need to embrace technology to remain relevant in the rapidly evolving healthcare scenario has become pertinent. In order to use the software technology, it is important to have robust IT infra like connectivity and lowering cost of procuring hardware etc. Only when infra is stronger, the software tools can be used effectively. Also, health care infra has to be safe, effective, agile, interoperable, and scalable. Policies towards achieving these objectives will be very important for the future adoptability of this system into delivery of healthcare.
UHI actually is a market enabler. It is going to enable or create opportunities for everybody at various ends. Going ahead, there will be multiple scopes and opportunities. There are service providers who can help one store the data so that one can use the digital system efficiently. Standardizing the whole service is the future scope of development under UHI.
BT: How can new business models set to emerge due to UHI initiatives and further increase in penetration of digital health?
KGV: Due to UHI initiatives, new business models like assisted mode teleconsultations can happen. All various add on services like OCR, artificial intelligence and machine learning are going to become very big that could actually transform the whole thing. People working in the health tech sector, health space or business space in general will probably come up with much more innovative and useful models. UHI aims at streamlining the digital health service experience for the providers of health service and the patient by establishing and standardizing the technology pathways that enable such services to be given.
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