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Prerequisites for Developing Digital Health Data


Synopsis: National Digital Health Mission aims to build digital health infrastructure in India. But there are many hurdles in developing comprehensive digital health data.

Introduction:

Recently on Independence Day, our Prime Minister announced National Digital Health Mission. The Mission aims to develop the backbone for integrated digital health infrastructure in India. Developing countries with significant health challenges like India critically need such an infrastructure.

The NDHM will help in developing the diagnostics and management of health services. Apart from that, the NDHM will also help in achieving broader public health monitoring, research, socio-economic studies, prioritizing resource allocation and policy interventions, etc.

Digitization can make healthcare more organized, effective, and efficient. But we must know that Digitization can’t substitute the fundamentals like an investment in nutrition and welfare, primary healthcare services and healthcare professionals, etc.

What is the prerequisite to digital health infrastructure?

Before going completely digital, certain things are essential to achieve the desired social objectives. They are,

  1. India needs to carefully develop various ways to fulfil the “health needs of the public”. India needs to carefully examine the following things and their improvement with digitization. Such as,
    • Ways of facilitating better diagnosis and management,
    • Understanding of the data structures for effective health services
    • Alleviate health problems with digitization such as malnutrition and child stunting, etc.
  2. Challenges with Privacy: It may also create tensions between a collection of digital health data and individual rights to privacy. For example, many countries like UK, Sweden, the US, etc. attempted to build digital health infrastructures they were not successful due to serious privacy-related controversies.
  3. Linking the digital health data to other sectors: This data may be linked to other sectors such as banking and services with adequate access to data. This creates two types of challenges.
    • Not linking the digital health data with other sectors will make the potential uses of digital health data very limited.
    • Complete interlinking of digital health data will create various problems such as privacy violation, the vulnerability of data to profit-motivated pharma companies, etc.
  4. Design of Digital health data operations: Access to digital data requires identifying and understanding the complexity in various data sources such as immunisation records, data in government and private hospitals, diagnostic centres, etc. The design should also include an understanding of data generation frequency, error models, sharing and other operational requirements, etc.
  5. Building an effective system that can generate people’s trust requires building a transparent process. That process should have openness and public consultations in all spheres of development.  This includes avoiding “crony expertise”, rejecting poorly-conceived designs and ideas, etc.

So, developing a comprehensive digital health infrastructure not only depends on the health sector alone. Instead, it also depends on e-governance and the administration of digitisation in India.

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