Explained: National Digital Health Mission

Author: Shawaiz Nisar

3rd Year B.A. LL.B (Hons.)
Rajiv Gandhi National Law University, Punjab

1. INTRODUCTION AND FEATURES OF THE MISSION

The Prime Minister of India during his Independence Day speech on the 15th of August, 2020 announced the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) aimed at transforming the healthcare sector in India.[1] The main emphasis of the initiative is to make the healthcare sector in India more technologically advanced, and inclusive. The initiative includes using technology in keeping the medical records, sharing healthcare information, appointments, and other processes in the healthcare system. 

The mission is a part of a full-fledged scheme National Digital Health Blueprint, aimed at improving the healthcare system of the country to the level set by the international standards and simultaneously allowing patients to exercise control over their medical data. The mission would cover all the health programmes implemented by the government time and again. Moreover, it would require a lot of financial resources to accomplish the mission. The National Health Authority has been provided with the task of implementing the mission.[2]

In furtherance of achieving a complete digital health ecosystem in the country, the scheme will include four key features – health ID, personal health records, digital doctor, and health facility registry. Subsequently, features like e-pharmacy and telemedicine services will also be added. All these features will be included on a platform either in the form of an app or a website.

The Mission, if properly implemented, will tackle the problems that people incur while getting appointments to visit a doctor, depositing hospital/clinical bills and so. The mission is also aimed at improving the transparency and effectiveness of health services.

The Digital Doctor feature will allow doctors from all over the country to enrol and details, including their contact, will be made available to the public. Digitally, people can refer to them and they can suggest prescriptions for the concerning complications.

Health ID would be a repository for all health-related information of citizens. Any person willing to get his medical data available digitally has to create a unique Health ID, which may be accompanied by linkage with some other ID (like Aadhaar) or mobile number.[3] The health ID shall be applicable throughout the states, hospitals, laboratories, and pharmacies. There shall be a post of data manager who would seek the consent of the patient for the information flow and to facilitate such flow.

2. BACKGROUND

National Digital Health Mission seems to be a part of National Health Policy 2017, aimed at creating a digital health ecosystem integrating health-related data systems serving the needs of every stakeholder involved. It was suggested that a digital health ID reduces the risk of avoidable medical errors and improves the quality of healthcare. As a part of the policy NITI Aayog in June 2018, suggested a digital infrastructure called National Health Stack[4], aimed at a more transparent health insurance system. National Digital Health Mission originated when National Digital Health Blueprint[5] (released by a committee headed by former UIDAI chairman) recognised the need for an organisation like NDHM[6] in July 2019. The breakthrough came on August 7, 2020, when NDHM released its strategic document[7] envisioning the digital registries of doctors, pharmacies, hospitals, insurance companies and so.

3. LIMITATIONS OF THE MISSION

Although the mission seems to be a ready go transformation from the traditional approach to the advanced technological one. The mission, however, is not so easy to make things practical. There is a big issue in logistics and privacy. However, the accomplishment of the goals of the mission would be extremely difficult. Some of the limitations of the mission areas: –

  1. The major concern of the policy is the data security and privacy of the patients. The mission requires government collaboration between public and private hospitals, laboratories, insurance firms, pharmacies, and telemedicine. This wider network will make health data of patients more susceptible to hacking and misuse.
  2. The mission is a transition from a traditional approach to a more technologically advanced approach, but many people in India are not aware of the technological advancements and about what information is to be shared and what not. Moreover, the lack of IT infrastructure in the country particularly the rural areas is going to become a major obstacle for the mission.
  3. The mission does not recognise ‘Health’ as a justiciable right, however, the draft National Health Policy, 2015[8] considers it a justiciable right.
  4. The implementation of the scheme is an extremely difficult task, as we could see the failures of the National Health Service UK.[9]
  5. There are several state-specific health schemes currently in operation across many states in India, and their integration with the national scheme would be extremely difficult. Moreover, the national schemes and programmes must be in sync with the mission.

 

4. CONCLUSION

The Mission seems to be a good effort to begin the work of making the healthcare sector in India digitised. Digitisation of this sector is the need of the day and has the potential to address the major issues in the provision of healthcare services. But the digitisation has its issues like data privacy, the requirement of a robust infrastructure, and so. The same problems may be faced while implementation of the mission will be started. Moreover, India is not at the stage of undergoing a complete transformation from a traditional approach to a more advanced one. Many people are hesitant about going through the new scheme.

In the end, the mission is a nice attempt at digitisation but may face a lot of hurdles in its practice.

 

References:

[1] India takes first step towards universal health coverage with Digital Health Mission launch: https://theprint.in/health/india-takes-first-step-towards-universal-health-coverage-with-digital-health-mission-launch/482258/ .

[2] NHA,

 https://pmjay.gov.in/about/nha

[3] What is the National Digital Health Mission? How Will Health ID Work?,

https://www.thequint.com/news/politics/pm-modi-announces-national-health-mission-what-is-it.

[4] NITI Aayog, National Health Stack, Strategy and Approach (July, 2018).

[5] Government of India, National Digital Health Blueprint (Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, April, 2019).

[6] Govt recommends to set up a digital entity to maintain Ayushman Bharat health data, https://entrackr.com/2019/07/govt-to-set-up-a-digital-entity-to-maintain-health-data/ .

[7] Narendra Modi launches National Digital Health Mission; all you need to know about new health ID https://www.firstpost.com/health/narendra-modi-launches-national-digital-health-mission-all-you-need-to-know-about-new-health-id-8718681.html .

[8] Government of India, National Health Policy 2015 Draft (Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, December, 2014).

[9] The first step towards fixing the UK’s health care system is admitting it’s broken,

https://qz.com/1201096/by-deifying-the-nhs-the-uk-will-never-fix-its-broken-health-care-system/  

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