Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on July 27, launched the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, and stated that the programme has the potential of bringing a “revolutionary change in India’s health facilities”.
Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission is expected to play a similar role as the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) did in revolutionising payments.
The nationwide rollout of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission coincides with the National Health Authority (NHA) celebrating the third anniversary of Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PM-JAY).
To be sure, the government is on the path of digitisation of healthcare for some time. COVID-19 has accelerated the process. The Arogya Setu app and CoWin platform are some of the famous examples.
So, what is Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission?
Under this mission, every citizen will now get a digital health ID and their health records will be digitally protected.
The digital ID will be a repository of all health-related information of a person. The ID will enable access and exchange of health records of citizens -- with their consent.
The mission also has components, such as the Healthcare Professionals Registry (HPR) and the Healthcare Facilities Registries (HFR), which will act as a repository of all healthcare providers across both modern and traditional systems. This, the Prime Minister said, will increase ease of living and business for citizens and healthcare service providers.
How will this help citizens?
The digital health ID, which creates a health account, ensures that old medical records are not lost, as every record will be stored digitally. So, it will remove unnecessary repetition of diagnostic tests and procedures, and bring about standardisation of care.
The digital ecosystem will also enable a host of other facilities such as online consultations, diagnosis and delivery of medicines. The digital ecosystem will also cut the unnecessary travel that patients in rural areas and small towns have to undertake to access healthcare.
With data on people's health at hand, the government can nudge people towards healthy lifestyles, thereby preventing diseases and saving costs to the people, which means that people with good lifestyles will have to pay lower health insurance premiums.
What is the status of the mission?
The pilot project was announced by Modi during his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort on August 15, 2020. So far, over 1 lakh unique health IDs have been created across six states and Union Territories.
What are the concerns?
The main concern is data privacy. “It is assumed, of course, that data privacy processes will be handled with utmost care," said Charu Sehgal, Partner, Deloitte India. “Data protection measures will have to be robust to preserve personal information,” Sehgal added.
Another issue is consent of patients in letting medical practitioners access their records. The government assures that without consent, no medical practitioner or service provider will be able to access the records of patients.
Why is the industry excited?
Through the health ID, healthcare service providers will be able to better understand the patient’s health history and past records of illnesses or special conditions.
This will help them in reducing inefficiencies and improving clinical outcomes. This will also help hospitals track their patients more closely. For the health insurance industry, the data will help in robust underwriting of policies.
"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 get connected with each other," said Dr Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, MD & CEO, Fortis Healthcare Ltd.
"The mission will create electronic medical records for each individual, which will allow doctors to track data over time. If they're having a medical emergency, all their health data will be presented together in a unique and consolidated way and the same information can flow to the payer and the insurance provider simultaneously. So, this is an extremely powerful and unique initiative and a moment to rejoice for the Indian healthcare system,” Raghuvanshi added.
Vaibhav Tewari, CEO, Portea Medical, says the easy digital access to healthcare records is going to be of great value for out-of-hospital care services such as remote monitoring or at-home healthcare.
"At present, a lot of patients fail to get timely or right care due to the lack of information about their medical condition and past treatments. With the digital health ID, this problem will be resolved and doctors will make informed and precise decisions. This will further prove to be of great advantage in the treatment of contagions like COVID-19 where contactless digital sharing of records is better than carrying them in a physical format," Tewari said.