National Digital Health Mission evokes great interest, but data security issue is major concern

By Satyen Mohapatra

Aug 26, 2020

New Delhi: With people all over the world reeling under the impact of Covid 19 pandemic, health issue has become numero uno for the administrator and the bureaucrat globally, and thats why National Digital Health Mission announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Independence Day has evoked great interest.

Health care which is in the hands of the both the government and the private players in the country witnesses a wide variance in accessibility, cost, quality of service of both nurses and doctors available in the dispensaries, clinics, nursing homes, hospitals throughout the nation in both urban and rural areas.

The National Digital Health Mission aspiring to collate nationwide data regarding the health status of the Indian population is expected to play a pivotal role in providing pro active action to mitigate the health problems of the citizens of the country by bringing about more equitable and need based services for patient care.

However, one of the major areas of concern is data security which had created hurdles even for the government’s flagship Aadhar scheme.

Privacy issue is the most important and critical as far as health data is concerned. Who will use, who will have access, where will it be stored.

According to Additional Chief Executive Officer National Health Authority Praveen Gedam adquate measures will be taken to maintain security and safety of the data acquired from the citizens with several walls of protection.

At present online registration of Health ID card can be done by giving your mobile number or Aadhar card number. All your health records with you can be uploaded on your card. The card will be an e-card though print out can be taken or even providing its unique ID number would be sufficient, he said. At present only citizens in UT where the pilot project is running people are registering themselves for the health ID cards and 29,997 cards have already been registered.

Dr Suresh Munuswamy, Head of Technology Innovation Public Health Foundation of India , said it is good that government is focusing on digital health, but policy making is one thing the real “challenge is in the execution.”He said digitization is going to greatly help expansion of health insurance coverage in the country.

Today we have 80-90 per cent persons not covered by health insurance , but if digitization comes then it is going to greatly expand the number of persons looking for insurance coverage.

Prices of insurance premium and health services both are likely to come down due to economy of scale once there is greater demand for insurance, he added.

One unified digital platform will be extremely efficient because there will be all data available at one spot,he said, rather than trying data sourcing from multiple platforms earlier like in-house hospital electronic records, OPD electronic records, out of pocket expense records, some of which may or may not be in digital format.

Digitization will also lead to greater customized care possible for the patient because the doctor would be aware of all the past record of the patient and could tailor make his treatment strategy accordingly without repeating any past mistakes, Dr Munuswamy said.
Artificial intelligence could later be made part of the system for quick diagnoses using the digital data. It would thus provide cheaper and shorter treatment, he added.

On the issue of data privacy he said, with digital data the problem of data tampering, hacking would always remain but “decentralization of data” by storing in multiple servers and making it available only when there is “need to service only at point of service” will make it reasonably safe.
He said, prescription should have bar code and the digital identity health card should have minimum data stored in itself.

How much access will the insurance companies have on the data , what kind of controls will be maintained on them to ensure that the personal data is not misused.

There are also plans to use the health ID for offering facilities such as telemedicine and e-pharmacies.
Access will be allowed only after the patient gives his or her consent. He can also give partial consent for some data and not for others. Therefore the card holder or the citizen will be the key person in the whole scheme.

The Prime Minister while delivering his Independence Day address NDHM “will bring a new revolution in India’s health sector.Technology will be used prudently to reduce the challenges in treatment.”Every Indian will be given a Health ID. This Health ID will work like a Health Account of every Indian. This account will contain your details of every test, every disease, the doctors you visited, the medicines you took and the diagnosis. When and what was the report, all such information will be incorporated in the Health ID.”

The National Digital Health Mission, he said, “will eliminate all these difficulties related to appointment with a doctor, depositing money, making a slip in the hospital, etc. We are devising a system which will help each and every citizen to make a better and informed decision.”

A pilot of the programme has been launched in the six union territories of Chandigarh, Ladakh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep.

Describing it as a “game changing” scheme , Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Health & Family Welfare, has said, based on the initial learnings in the UTs, we will gradually work in partnership with the States to launch the NDHM.

He sought the whole-hearted support, inputs and cooperation of doctors, healthcare facilities, citizens and State governments to adopt the scheme.

The National Health Authority (NHA), the apex agency responsible for the implementation of Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, will implement the NDHM in the country.

—India News Stream