Technology Changes Healthcare Delivery, Once And For All


Dr Jitendar Kumar Sharma 
Head- Healthcare Technology Division & Director, WHO Centre for Medical Devices, National Health Systems Resource Center, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India

Innovations in healthcare industry, such as Healthcare ATM and Teleradiology are happening and these technological interventions have completely transformed the traditional pattern of healthcare delivery, says Dr Jitendar Kumar Sharma, Head- Healthcare Technology Division & Director, WHO Centre for Medical Devices, National Health Systems Resource Center, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, in an interaction with Souvik Goswami of Elets News Network (ENN)

Give us an overview of the National Health Systems Resource Center (NHSRC) under the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India.

Every country has got three broad categories of institutions under the Ministry of Health. First kind of institutions deal with planning & research, second category of institutions deal with programme support & implementation and the third category of institutions deal with training & capacity building. Many a times these roles do overlap. NHSRC is a technical support institution for policy development and implementation support under the National Health Mission for the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India.

What are the main functions of the Healthcare Technology Division in NHSRC?

Healthcare Technology Division at NHSRC is Worlds fourth and South East Asias only WHO recognised center for medical technology. Hence while it works for Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, we quite often share our reports with the WHO on aspects pertaining to medical devices and healthcare technologies. The Healthcare Technology Division has five broad functions.

Firstly, Health Technology Division supports in formulation of specifications for devices procured under National Health Mission. We believe that the rational specification leads to better competitiveness thus improving cost effectiveness in procurement without compromising quality and safety. Secondly, we support state governments in implementing comprehensive equipment maintenance and life cycle management. Thirdly, the division of healthcare technology supports in design & implementation for providing for technology intensive services. Fourth function is support in policy formulation on issues such as duty correction, trade impact assessment etc.

Fifth, strengthening infrastructure and health system under which we provide technical support for setting up of medical devices testing laboratories, medical devices manufacturing parks. To elaborate with an example, India did not have a single dedicated medical devices testing lab. We developed technical reports on how to go about it and subsequent to Governments approval, four labs are now under development. But the golden line is that globally there was no reference document available on how to develop a medical devices testing laboratory. The reports developed by Healthcare Technology Division are now on website of WHO as a global reference document.

We also conceptualised that reduction in medical device manufacturing costs could be achieved if government can make capital investment on common manufacturing facilities and now, these are being implemented.

You are also working as an Advisor (Health & Medical Technology) to the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, where countrys first Medical Technology Manufacturing Park is coming up. In the era of Make in India and Startup India, how much significance does this initiative carry?

Let us first look at why the medical device manufacturing industry did not pick up in India earlier. The reason is that the medical device manufacturing requires certain high investment facilities which are too capital intensive for individual manufactures to invest upon. But if the Government could provide for high capital intensive facilities, the cost of manufacturing will reduce as manufacturers will not need to spend for the capital intensive common facilities.

With this in mind, we conceptualized the idea of a medical devices manufacturing park in Vishakhapatnam in which common manufacturing facilities will be provided by the government under PPP model of the central government departments. These facilities can be used by the manufacturers on user fee basis. Besides, upto 150 manufacturing units would be created with built up area of approximately 1 acre to be given on 99 years lease. Apart from this, showrooms, industry R&D centers, incubation centers, rapid prototyping centers, electromagnetic interference testing laboratory and other such facilities wouldl be built, so that manufacturers could use these at affordable costs. According to estimates, `10,000 crores worth of medical equipment could take place in any such park.

This will be Asias first medical device manufacturing zone with common testing and manufacturing facilities. We are hopeful that park will be ready to use by 2017.

The reports developed by Healthcare Technology Division are now on website of WHO as a global reference document

Throw some light on National Healthcare Innovation Portal.

The Health Technology division of NHSRC is also supporting the Ministry in the process of identification, assessment and uptake of innovative health technologies. The process of innovation uptake is facilitated through National Healthcare Innovation Portal, which can be accessed at Innovators can use this platform to upload necessary details of the innovative technologies which could have a positive impact on health. The assessment of technologies includes assessment of efficacy, risk, cost, legal and social aspects concerned with technologies.

How important role will be played by technology in providing quality healthcare services and building health infrastructure in a country like India?

There are already few states in India, where every single x-ray machine is now teleradiologically linked. It means that the service provider provides for image capturing, digitisation, transmission and reporting and the cost is less than a dollar per x-ray.

Other one is Healthcare ATM. In this, a multi para monitor is attached in the primary healthcare centre, where there is no doctor. It takes all the vital signs of the patient and transmits it via GSM as SMS without requiring internet to a doctor sitting at remote location. Medicines are prescribed for common ailments which are dispensed at the particular primary health care center through a vending machine. The Health ATM is being piloted in Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. All these innovations are technology intensive and have tried to solve a given problem in a nonorthodox manner.

The important part will be how we can harness the Public Private Partnerships. The partnership with the private sector needs equipoise to ensure that public health capacities are complimented and not substituted. Harnessing modern technology will be key driver for the health sector to move forward.

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