The digital health mission is essential. The challenges of language of communication, privacy and the shortage of doctors must be addressed


Instead of carrying their medical records in polythene bags, Indians will be able to use computer tools to share prescriptions, blood test reports, and x-ray diagnoses with doctors no matter where they were generated. This is the idea behind the Ayushman Bharat digital mission launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday. This involves the creation of a unique health identifier for each citizen and a digital registry that aims to facilitate transparent interactions between health experts. This is an essential intervention as the management of chronic disease has become a critical public health challenge over the past 15 years. Data portability could speed up the treatment of critically ill people, especially those with more than one disease. The severity of the effects of Covid-19 among people with co-morbidities has highlighted the need for a repository that alerts a doctor to a patient’s medical history with the click of a computer mouse. In the long term, the creation of a health records system could improve public health monitoring and advance evidence-based policy development. Achieving these goals will, however, depend on how policymakers cope with the challenges arising from the long-standing failures of the Indian healthcare sector. It will also require them to be mindful of ethical issues related to the use of digital data.

Overall, the meeting with innovations in e-health has been mixed. The UK’s National Health Service was one of the first to deploy a digital system to make patient records accessible to doctors across the country. The program failed to gain the trust of doctors and failed to adequately address data privacy issues. Abandoned in 2011, the project is considered one of the costliest failures in IT history. In the United States and Australia, where digital healthcare has seen relatively better output, creating a patient-centric and physician-centric online healthcare ecosystem remains a work in progress. The American medical system has witnessed regular debates about what should be noted in hospital records and prescriptions. The task of entering data – many of which may not always be relevant to clinical care – has added to the burden of the American physician and is seen by experts as one of the main reasons for the high rate of physician burnout in the United States. the country. The evolution of a language of communication in the digital health ecosphere could pose unforeseen challenges in India given the diversity of the country and its chronic shortage of doctors, especially in public health centers – the main source of medical care for a large number of people in the country. Poor internet speeds could make data entry an expensive proposition for the rural health care provider.

The Ayushman Bharat digital mission gives patients the flexibility to choose which records they want to share. However, given the asymmetrical relationships between healthcare providers – doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies – and the lack of data protection law, a breach of patient privacy cannot be ruled out. In the months and years to come, policymakers will be watched to see how they address these challenges.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 29, 2021 under the title “A click away”.

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