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Govt moves to digitise health records quickly, asks states to send data but ensure privacy

The govt's digitisation plans aim to provide unique health IDs to citizens on the lines of Aadhaar and enable setting up of electronic health records.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has expedited the process of digitising health records under the framework of the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) — the scheme that is being executed by the National Health Agency (NHA), ThePrint has learnt.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has sent a letter, dated 25 June, to the principal secretaries (health) of all states and union territories, asking them to extend full support to the NHA to create four registries — doctors, health infrastructure, health IDs and personal health records of patients.

It also instructed the states to send the required details within the stipulated timeline without breaching the norms of data privacy.

Under the NDHM, the government has also been planning to provide unique health IDs to citizens on the lines of Aadhaar and enable setting up of electronic health records.

The plan of digitisation of health records has been in the pipeline since 2018 when NITI Aayog had released a proposal, called the ‘National Health Stack (NHS)’, to provide foundational components that will be required to design information technology-driven health programmes in India. The NDHM is part of the NHS.

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What does the letter say?

The letter, written by Arti Ahuja, additional secretary, health ministry, stated: “As you are aware that NHA has been entrusted with the task of implementation of NDHM under the overall guidance and supervision of MoHFW, for this purpose the following registries need to be created…”

The letter emphasised that the process needs to be done within the stipulated deadline, but didn’t mention the last date.

“As the activities need to be completed in a time-bound manner, it is requested to extend full support and cooperation to NHA…”

The NHA is an apex government body — led by IAS officer Indu Bhushan as its CEO — responsible for implementation of the world’s largest health insurance scheme, Ayushman Bharat.

The letter further highlighted that while the states must send the required information “for the implementation of the above tasks”, they should do this while “duly keeping in view the norms of data privacy and security of personal data”.

The letter has also been marked to the president of Medical Council of India, Directorate General of Health Services, all joint secretaries dealing with various health programmes and additional director of the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare. 

Benefits of digitised health records

According to health experts, digitised health records could help India collate and analyse data in a much better way from various levels of the health system across the country, and then use it to frame policy responses.

“It can also provide real time inputs to policy makers. Availability of standard ways of collecting patient information, usage of electronic health records can also be useful for clinical data to be collected, and help us better understand the nature of the pandemic in India,” said Anant Bhan, adjunct professor and researcher in bioethics at Mangaluru’s Yenepoya University.

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