Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday launched the digital Ayushman Bharat Mission and said the initiative would bring about a revolutionary change in India’s health facilities, improve ease of living, and digitally protect the health records of people.
He said in a virtual address that the mission would create a seamless online platform that would enable interoperability within the digital health ecosystem.
The PM said the Ayushman Bharat–Digital Mission would connect the digital health solutions of hospitals across the country with each other and simplify hospital processes. Every citizen would be able to get a health ID and their health record would be digitally protected, Modi said. Experts, however, have raised privacy concerns around the digitisation of the health records of people, especially in absence of a data protection law or a data protection authority. Digital rights organisation Access Now has said in a letter to the health ministry: “The use of ‘unique identifiers’ imperils privacy, and enables the “mosaicing” or creation of a complete profile of users, which can be used to target them by commercial or state actors. This must not be permitted.”
Modi stressed that the initiative would play a very important role in eliminating the medical problems of the poor and the middle-class section of society.
He acknowledged that diseases were one of the key reasons to push families into the vicious cycle of poverty. Modi said women in these families were the worst sufferers as they would always relegate their health issues to the background.
More than 20 million citizens have so far availed of the facility of free treatment under the Ayushman Bharat scheme, half of whom are women, according to the government. The PM acknowledged that diseases were one of the key reasons to push families into the vicious cycle of poverty. He said women in these families were the worst sufferers as they would always relegate their health issues to the background.
The Ayushman Bharat scheme was launched by the prime minister on September 23, 2018. So far, 23,000 hospitals have been empanelled under the scheme, 40 per cent of which are from the private sector. It was in the middle of the pandemic that the government had launched the national digital health mission. The unique digital health ID is part of this programme which seeks to give control over their health data and digital personal health records.
Private sector hospitals have termed the announcement a watershed moment, which would transform the way health care is delivered in the country. “The implications of this programme are far wider than what is being perceived today. It’s like a neural system for the entire ecosystem where the signals will flow up and down. That is what would bring inefficiency in the healthcare system,” said Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, managing director and CEO, Fortis Healthcare.
Health experts said the biggest advantage to users would be that they would not have to repeat certain investigations since there would be a unified format and standards in the digital system. The digital health mission would also ensure the flow of information to insurance providers.
“This programme will be a game-changer and provide timely and hassle-free medical care to people all over India. The only challenge we foresee is the ability and willingness to implement a digital ecosystem in all our health care services and to come out of our comfort zone of providing physical services,” said Shuchin Bajaj, founder and director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals.
Highlighting some of the other challenges, Access Now in the letter to the ministry has asked the government to ensure that the creation of a digital health system does not exacerbate the digital divide, and does not replace government investment in primary and secondary health infrastructure. It also asked the ministry to ensure that this system contained adequate regulation of the sector, did not force a health ID or digital access upon anyone, and was based on the principle of non-exclusion.