Delivering the Independence Day speech from the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched the National Digital Health Mission. The new scheme will come under the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana.
"From today, a big campaign is being launched in which technology will play a big role. The National Digital Health Mission is being launched today. This will bring a new revolution in India's health sector and it will help reduce problems in getting treatment with the help of technology," he said. "Every Indian will be given a health ID. This health ID will work as each Indian's health account," Modi said.
What is the new digital health mission?
Under the mission, every Indian will get a new Aadhar-like health ID that will store the individual's medical records, including doctor visits, diseases, the line of treatment and drugs taken. The scheme will map every citizen's health with a unique ID. This will also come integrated with the facility of using telemedicine, e-pharmacy, creating a national health registry.
From a doctor’s appointment to hospitalisation for any treatment, this ID will become essential. The key feature of this mission is the technology part - it will leverage open digital systems to provide high-quality healthcare for all. It will integrate various digital health services to create an ecosystem which can assimilate existing health information systems.
The health ID will be in the form of a mobile application. Patients can create a health ID, allowing them to share their data between hospitals and doctors digitally. They can choose for how long or what specific documents they would like to share with whom. If individuals are looking to benefit from government schemes, then they will be required to connect their ID to their Aadhaar. They can choose for how long or what specific documents they would like to share with whom. If individuals are looking to benefit from government schemes, then they will be required to connect their ID to their Aadhaar.
One copy of a patient’s records are stored in their doctor’s files and one is stored in their own individual locker (which can be owned by a company or by the government). Other than the registry of doctors, professionals, and institutions, this allows for decentralised storing.
While the full details of the mission are still being awaited, the easiest analogy that can be drawn regarding the functioning of the digital health ID is with that of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). Like how a Paytm or PhonePe user can use the UPI platform for a transaction, the NDHM team looks to choose from several private applications on their government-owned interface.
The origin of the National Digital Health Mission goes back to the National Health Policy of 2017, which proposed a new National Digital Health Authority. In July 2019, the National Digital Health Blueprint was released by a committee headed by former UIDAI chairman Satyanarayana.
According to the blueprint, the objective of the digital mission is to achieve a citizen-centric, universal health coverage that provides quality healthcare, with better accessibility and inclusivity by leveraging the power of the digital technologies.
The National Digital Health Blueprint recommended the setting up of the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), a governmental organisation with complete functional autonomy on the lines of UIDAI and Goods and Services Network.
The blueprint, in its recommendations, suggested that NDHM should look at establishing and managing the core digital health data and the infrastructure required for seamless exchange. It should also promote the adoption of open standards by all the actors in the National Digital Health Ecosystem (NDHE), for developing several digital health systems that span across the sector from wellness to disease management.
Creating a system of personal health records, based on international standards, and easily accessible to the citizens and to the service providers, based on citizen-consent is one of the main objectives of NHDM, as stated in the blueprint.
The blueprint recommends two building blocks—Personal Health Identifier (PHI), and Health Master Directories & Registries—for handling the requirements of unique identification of persons, facilities, diseases and devices. These building blocks will be equipped with the interoperability option to seamlessly access digital records. No doubt, Aadhaar will be at the centre of building the digital health mission.
However, with India still lacking a law on data protection, the digital health mission and the semblance of the policy to Aadhaar is expected to trigger privacy concerns in the days to come.