Prof. Rajendra Pratap Gupta, Chairman – Drafting Committee, National Digital Health Standards (NDHS), National Board for Hospitals and Healthcare (NABH), in a conversation with Prathiba Raju, shares on how NDHS is shaping up and what the committee is diligently doing to put India as the first country in the global map to have NDHS and start accrediting digital health providers by 2021.
The need for a national digital health framework and will it be an extension of National Health Policy of 2017 ?
The drafting committee for National Digital Health Standards (NDHS) was initiated in March 2020 in line with Digital India as envisioned by the Prime Minister as mentioned in the National Health Policy 2017. However, once the telemedicine practice guidelines were out in April this year, it was quite logical and important to have a well defined framework to ensure the quality of services/care delivered through the use of digital tools, hence the needs for standards. Also, COVID has fast tracked the adoption of digital health. Digital Health is no more an option, it is the only option. So, digital health standards are a must have for every country to ensure patient privacy ,safety and quality of care.
Within the standards committee, we are building upon the existing work done by the National Digital Health blueprint, EHR standards 2016 and other relevant initiatives by various ministries and departments. Existing work done is an integral part of our reference architecture.
What is the constitution of the committee and how is the committee doing the work given the current lockdown ?
We have exceptional leaders in our committee nominated by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), NITI Aayog, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Drugs Controller General of India (DGCI) and sectoral leaders from the private sector. We have already done our basic work of identifying the framework, timelines and various chapters for the standards. We have divided the work into teams, and each team is tasked to work on their respective sections, and interact with other teams for the overlap and feedback . Our work is done online through video conferences and the teams are meeting every week. Besides, we have been doing calls with global leaders on a regular basis.
Can you tell us about the progress so far and what are the timelines ? As technology moves faster than any policy.
The team is drafting this crucial standard and continuously engaging with relevant stakeholders. We have covered a lot of ground in the past eight weeks. We hope to put the standards in the public domain over the next two-three weeks for comments and then, incorporate the relevant suggestions. So, finally, policy is moving as fast as technology if not faster than technology, and I can assure you that India will be the first country to have comprehensive Digital Health Accreditation standards before the end of 2020. From 2021, India will become the first country to start accrediting digital health providers.
In mapping a digital framework what do you see as the main challenges that you will need to overcome to sort of make this a reality?
Our challenge was in the initial stage, as digital health is broad term and we have no precedent to look at standards development. So, the biggest challenge was to define the starting point. and topics to cover, approach we take, and who all we discuss with given that there is no precedent across the globe .We have resolved each of these teething challenges, and we will be covering entire gamut of activities under digital health including the doctors, hospitals , medical devices, softwares, Artificial Intelligence (AI) etc.. Also, we have decided to adopt the ‘systems approach’ for our standards. We have done calls with key leaders across the globe, and our approach has not only been validated and appreciated, but there is a possibility for a wider adoption of this standard .
What are the hurdles that you still have to navigate?
For now, we are good.
How is digital health going to look like five or ten years from now?
My view is that in the next ten years, there will be no ‘digital health’, it will just be ‘health’ and ‘digital’ will be an integral part of healthcare.