Indian healthcare: What to expect in 2018

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Nabeela Khan

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India’s healthcare is overburdened and there is feeling of distress and unrest about the functioning of the health system. In order to deliver an affordable healthcare and empower patients, the government introduces various policies every year.  Here is a look at what we can expect in the year 2018.

1. First and most important effort to revamp India's healthcare is the government’s effort to put forth National Medical Commission Bill to Replace Medical Council of India. The draft bill aims to reform the medical education sector which has been under scrutiny for corruption and unethical practices. It was in 2009 that the Prime Minister of India mooted the idea of revamping the archaic MCI. The draft bill got the cabinet approval last month and is now in the parliament for final approval. There are several misgivings about the bill, as K Sujatha Rao, former Health Secretary pointed out. “There are apprehensions that in seeking to reduce corruption by liberalising and rationalising some aspects, we may end up creating a situation where medical education may become unaffordable for the middle classes,” she wrote in a recent article published in the DNA.

2. With the launch of India’s new health policy 2017, the government proposes to increase the health budget from 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent GDP spending on healthcare. The policy seeks to increase the use of public health facilities by 50% from current levels by 2025 and promises to increase public health spending in a time-bound manner and guarantees health care services to all Indian citizens, particularly the underprivileged. The policy seeks to move away from sick-care to wellness, with a thrust on prevention and health promotion. The government says it will pursue ambitious targets like reducing Under-Five Mortality to 23 by 2025 and Maternal Mortality Ratio from current levels to 100 by 2020, and Infant Mortality Rate to 28 by 2019. It also seeks to reduce neonatal mortality to 16 and stillbirth rate to “single digit” by 2025. It remains to be seen what measures will the government take in 2018 to achieve these targets.

3.  High cost of healthcare and medicines push millions of Indians to poverty every year. With an aim to empower patients and promote affordable medicines, the government plans to allow pharmacists to substitute a generic drug against the brand prescribed by the doctor as generics are cheaper than brand-name drugs. However, effective quality control will remain a concern and therefore it requires a strong quality regulatory mechanism. The year 2018 will reveal how well this prescription will work for India and whether or not will the government be able to engage all stakeholders in this effort for better outcomes.

4.  Medical syringe prices may come down from this year. Manufacturers of disposable syringes have decided to cap trade margins at 75 per cent from ex-factory/import landed to MRP.  The Executive Body and larger membership of All India Syringe & Needle Manufacturing Association (AISNMA) have decided that all members will print reduced MRP on basis of a Voluntary Capped Trade Margins of maximum 75 per cent over their discounted net ex-factory prices (including GST) and implement this latest by Republic Day, January 26th, 2018. This will cover all categories of syringes and needles - disposable, auto disable, reuse prevention, needle stick prevention, insulin pen needle etc. The move comes after the Fortis Gurugram episode where the hospital had overcharged the family of deceased seven-year-old dengue patient for medical consumables.

6. We are heading into an era which embraces the big data, Internet of Things and machine learning. A boost in health technology and Internet of things is envisioned for the year 2018. With Samsung’s investment to set up 20 smart healthcare centres in Uttar Pradesh to the on-going evolution in Artificial intelligence has taken the healthcare beyond four walls of the hospital. The Government of India is constantly working to strengthen electronic health records in the country and has set up the National Health Portal with an aim to provide healthcare related information to its citizens which can serve as a single point of access for consolidated health information.

7. For 2018, globally the industry experts have predicted that IoT’s revolution in the healthcare market will take along the analytics, thereby increasing the relevancy of data interpretations. Also we may hear more about “personalized preventative health digital coaches” and health apps which can help users attain an enhanced lifestyle, improved mental health, and better cognitive functioning.

8. Some of the changes in healthcare happen through a change in portfolios and reshuffle in health ministries. This year eight states - Karnataka, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan – will go through polls. There may be change in portfolios and some new faces may emerge to lead their states to better healthcare.