Union cabinet approves Rs 1,600 crore for health data
The Union cabinet has approved a five-year outlay of Rs 1,600 crore for the Centre’s plan to create a digital platform to enable patients’ health records to be accessed with their consent by doctors, clinics, or hospitals nationwide.
The Centre announced on Saturday that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had approved the implementation of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) that will also seek to provide equitable access to quality health care through telemedicine and national health services portability.
The ABDM has already created nearly 176 million Ayushman Bharat Health Accounts and registered 10,250 healthcare professionals and 18,360 healthcare facilities of which 765 are in the private sector. Those numbers include 10 million residents and 2,604 healthcare facilities in Bengal.
The platform is designed to enable each account to be linked to the account holder’s electronic health records created or maintained by healthcare facilities, said Praveen Gedam, additional chief executive officer at the National Health Authority, the government agency implementing the mission.
The NHA had said earlier this month that people across the country may create their health accounts through Aarogya Setu, the Covid-19 app for contact tracing and mapping released by the Centre in 2020.
The account-holders’ identities and health data will be protected through clear protocols, the NHA’s chief executive officer, R.S. Sharma, said on Saturday, speaking at an online seminar on the ABDM and seeking to allay apprehensions about the privacy and safety of health data.
Medical experts view the digital health mission as an ambitious proposal, bigger in size and more complex in its scope than the Centre’s Aadhaar project that assigned unique identities to all Indians.
Some in the healthcare industry believe the ABDM could provide a fresh opportunity to enhance the quality of healthcare services.
“Without minimum standards, there is complete volatility and inconsistency in the quality of healthcare services given to people at this point in time,” said Ameera Shah, managing director of Metropolis Healthcare, a diagnostics lab chain.
“As we move towards ABDM, it is very important to put minimum standards at the same time. Otherwise we’re giving technology tools to people who might not be taking (quality) care of patients,” she said.
Sections of doctors and patients’ rights advocates, however, have questioned what they view as the Centre’s focus on the digitisation of health records without adequate investments on healthcare programmes or actions to improve the quality of services.
The Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), a network of physicians, health experts and patients’ rights advocates, had earlier this month expressed concern that the Centre’s 2022-23 budget outlay for mother and child care, chronic disease control and mental health will be stagnant or decline over last year’s outlay.
“When health services on the ground are grossly inadequate, what sense does it make to prioritise digital health cards?” the JSA had said in its statement released on February 2.