Corner OfficeExpert OpinionNewsletter

Monetization of Digital Health Data: A Big Opportunity for India


The Indian healthcare industry is undergoing a digital transformation. Several steps have been taken by the government to shape national policy to support this transformation journey.This includes the establishment of an “Open digital health ecosystem” (ODE). The ODE is supported by a shared digital infrastructure that can be leveraged by both public and private stakeholders to deploy new health solutions.

One of the key building blocks of this shared digital infrastructure is the digital health record (EHR/PHR). This will hold all the health information relating to a patient in a computer-readable format. These records contain extensive information on a patient’s health. These could include medical history, previous diagnosis, treatment plans and medications, laboratory test results, radiology images, allergies, immunization details, genetic information, patient demographics,activity, etc.

The population (1.38 billion) in India is projected to grow to 1.5 billion by 2030. This growth, coupled with the increasing burden from chronic and infectious diseases will result in an explosion of digital health data in the future.

The primary objective should be to leverage this health data to improve the wellness of the communities being served and achieve the goal of universal healthcare for all. However,it is imperative not to miss out on the impending opportunity to monetize this huge trove of digital health data, that will be generated in India in the coming years.

In the future, the demand will increase manifold for health data from activities relating to clinical research, drug discovery, data analytics, artificial intelligence-based tools, etc. For example, the global market for artificial intelligence in healthcare is expected to reach ~$120 billion by 2028.

Health care data commands a high monetary value as it has the potential to be used across several applications. Consider the example of the sale of Flatiron, a data-rich company, to Roche in 2018. The sale value was $1.9 billion for 2.2 million research-ready patient records, an implied value of $1,000 per record. It has been estimated that the data held by NHS could be worth around £10 billion a year through operational savings and improved patient outcomes.

Several countries are making strategic investments to harness the full value of digital health data. Israel for example has planned an investment of $280 million to digitize population health data, expecting a return of ~$600 billion from the digital health market. The South Korean government is increasing subsidies for medical big data initiatives and consolidating its hospital data to establish a national health database for ~10 million patients.

Globally, there are several private players in the business of monetizing digital health data. Mayo Clinic, for example, has created a digital health patient data marketplace called the Clinical Data Analytics platform.Healthcare organizations, insurance companies, providers,startups, and life science companies,can gain access to de-identified patient data through appropriate licensing deals with Mayo Clinic.Another example is the AWS Data Marketplace. This offers a curated catalog of third-party solutions that can help users unlock the potential of health data.

Harnessing health data for the national benefit will require considerable investments, some bold decisions, and a strong political will from the government to make it happen. India is lagging in the global health data monetization race.The government needs to take appropriate steps with a sense of urgency to ensure that we do not lose out on this huge impending opportunity.

The deployment of the proposed National health stack and the National health information network need to be accelerated.

The current laws in the country for the protection of health and personal data are generic.The proposed Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act (DISHA), and the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 (PDP Bill) is an important step to shape the future of data protection in India by making it more aligned with global standards. They seek to provide for electronic health data privacy, confidentiality, security, standardization, and the additional responsibilities of the data collector. However, both DISHA and the PDP Bills have not yet been passed by the Parliament and await enactment.The expedited implementation of these bills will hold the key to how well personal health data is protected in the future.

Currently, clinical patient data is being used by providers, health-tech companies, etc. for research and other development activities.Business users benefit financially from this data, either directly or indirectly.The health data owners (patients) do not get any share of this benefit. The awareness of the importance of privacy, confidentiality, and the potential uses of health data is low among people.Adequate steps need to be taken to educate people on topics relating to health data ownership, monetization, etc. As over 65% of the population lives in rural India, this will be a challenge that needs to be addressed.

Several multinational companies have developed their proprietary health data platforms. Proactive steps need to be taken by the government to ensure that only platforms that conform to open standards are deployed in the country. This is to ensure that these companies do not gain an unfair market advantage, and the consumers are not locked to any particular platform. A lot can be learned from the telecom and the financial services industry in this regard.

A large amount of health data (and other types of data) will be generated in the country in the years to come. There is a need to explore the creation of a National Data Marketplace and also an International Data Marketplace in the country. This will help ensure the required data governance and compliance while befitting all stakeholders.

To increase the demand for health data, there is a need to market India not just as a source of curated patient data but as an end-to-end solution provider. A focused effort is required to promote the growth of businesses that require access to health data to succeed. (pharmaceutical companies for drug discovery, Health Tech companies for AI algorithms, etc). This would require a concerted effort from industry bodies like FICCI, CII, NASSCOM, etc.

Technologies like Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Data Analytics, etc. will play an important role in the health data monetization journey. Over 50% of the existing IT workforce in the country will need to be reskilled to meet the demand for these technologies. In addition to the current efforts by NASSCOM, there is a need for academia to recognize this and redesign their curriculum to include courses relating to these new technologies.

Health data will not only help in providing universal care for all but also presents a huge potential opportunity for monetization. The monetary value of the health data is the same,irrespective of the economic level or the geographic location of the individual (urban or rural). If monetized successfully, this data can help create a new income stream, especially benefiting the underprivileged population of the country.

The effort to monetize health data in the country needs to be provided the required impetus and attention.Health data needs to be viewed as a national asset and protected.

(Srinivas Prasad is Founder and CEO of Neusights and the views expressed in this article are his own)

Leave a Response