Have health ID cards worked elsewhere?

One of the biggest takeaway from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s independence day speech was the launch of a health ID card for everyone in our country. Under the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) every Indian would get an ID card that would contain all relevant information about medical conditions, treatment sought and medicines prescribed.

In his speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Every Indian will get a Health ID card. Every time you visit a doctor or a pharmacy, everything will be logged in this card. From the doctor’s appointment to the medication, everything will be available in your health profile.”

New Delhi, Aug 15 (ANI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the Nation on the occasion of 74th Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, in Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

This is a revolutionary idea which will use technology for electronically storing patients’ data which can help access services remotely through teleconsultation and e-pharmacies. The biggest challenge for NDHM will be connecting health care providers and centres digitally. This challenge can be overcome by increasing internet penetration. The Prime Minister has said that 6 lakh villages will be connected with fibre optic cables in the next 1000 days. Internet penetration is improving across the country and a sustained effort will have to be made to computerise district-level health centres in tier III towns and villages.

The second challenge would be of data privacy. Personal sensitive health records of patients will be shared with doctors, labs, hospitals and insurance providers. We still do not have a data protection law in our country and health data falling into wrong hands could be troublesome for patients. After its introduction in the Rajya Sabha in end 2019, the Joint Parliamentary Committee is examining the Personal Data Protection Bill. Prime Minister Modi in his Independence day speech has said that a cybersecurity law will be unveiled soon.

Electronic health record-keeping has had success in European countries like Estonia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. Of course these are smaller countries, where implementation has occurred over years and coverage is wide. Canada and Australia have implemented HER in most of the provinces and regions. Large countries with reputed healthcare systems like the United States have struggled with integrating patient data with public health departments.

India is committed to Universal Healthcare by 2030 and digitisation of healthcare will help improve access, efficiency and affordability. The India stack and the J-A-M trinity (Jandhan-Aadhar-Mobile) is the base for the digital India plan. The National Health Stack latest technologies like data analytics and artificial intelligence to improve health coverage, something which has been hastened by the unfortunate breakout of the corona pandemic.

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