Health department to launch new board to standardise health care, reduce private malpractice

23 July, 2016

To make uniform healthcare treatments and costs across the country, the union health ministry will set up a Medical Technology Assessment Board, Secretary Department of Health Research Dr Soumya Swaminathan announced on Friday. Such a board, in partnership with other bodies such as the Indian Council of Medical Research, various IITs, state institutions, will work to "evaluate the appropriateness and cost effectiveness of available and new Health Technologies in India using internationally recognized health technology assessment methodologies".

Health technologies refers broadly to medicines, vaccines, and devices, through public health interventions and health delivery platforms.

Health technology assessment (HTA), explained the Department, is a method of evidence synthesis that considers evidence regarding clinical effectiveness, safety, cost-effectiveness and, when broadly applied, includes social, ethical, and legal aspects of the use of health technologies.

The board's aim, Dr Swaminathan and other officials from the DHR laid out, was to standardise health care in such a manner that for a particular type of condition, patients in different places should receive similar care and pay similar amounts. Guidelines for treatment in the public domain will curb over-treatment and over-prescription by private facilities.

It will no longer be the case that "AIIMS does one of kind of surgery and Fortis another" as one of the present officials put it.

How the board is to be constituted, what steps are to be taken further will be hashed out in an international workshop, July 25 onwards, with experts from the United Kingdom and from Thailand -- two countries which have similar successful assessment boards.

Swaminathan said that for the board to have an impact on health care it would eventually have to be ratified by an act of Parliament and be made a standalone law. An official from UK explained that the body there, national institute of health and care excellence (NICE) ran as a "quasi governmental" body with complete independence from the ministry of health.

Regulating the private sector seemed very much on the department's mind, as Swaminathan said that many private hospitals overdiagnosed and overtreated their patients. This would be curbed by standardised guidelines in the public domain as patients will feel empowered to question their doctors. She added that the board will not have members from the private health industry so as to be above all conflict of interest. Some of its decisions, she anticipated, would not go down well with private players.

"We have to increase the medical education of patients," said Swaminathan, "often the poorest feel least empowered to ask questions."

One of the board's partners will be the National Health Systems Resource Centre (NHSRC), which is already working on such guidelines for non communicable disease.