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Challenges which Modi’s national digital health mission might face

The national digital health mission was announced by prime minister Narendra Modi on Independence Day and was also highlighted once again in the recent budget presentation. The purpose of this health mission is to develop the prime basis quintessential for creating an integrated digital health infrastructure in the country, especially after the vulnerabilities brought out by the covid-19 pandemic.

It is of no doubt that the pandemic has thrown our bad health management facilities in our face. it also highlighted how imperative is the presence of a well-functioning personal health data infrastructure country to battle any sort of uncertainties. And whenever any kind of significant health challenge comes our way, the infrastructure becomes the shield to our safety. Development of digital health infrastructure in developing countries like India can not only improve our diagnostic and management functions but also assist in monitoring health, conducting social-economic studies and research work. When we talk about this, we do not claim that the digitisation process can totally replicate and substitute the fundamental physical presence of a doctor and health infrastructure but just that it can provide a tip of ease by making healthcare more efficient, organised and effective.

But the road is not as easy as it seems. The world is already dealing with a lot of issues surrounding data management, data privacy and data leakages. Thus, while organising and creating any kind of digital health infrastructure and drafting laws, the government for the drafting committee has to be extremely conscious of such threats. all the policies and draughts shall not be based on claims and opinions but on vigorous proofing and facts. An exact explanation and examination of the effect of digitisation in health care facilities in terms of quality and quantity shall be discussed and deliberated. Moreover, there should be a clear understanding of how the data which is collected will be used to tackle health problems such as child stunting and how it will be managed and stored. We should also be clear of how exactly the precise data collected by digitization would help us in better managing our vaccination programs or health care systems in general. Keeping an eye on how variably the entire new digital system would affect different communities and strata of society, especially the lower band, is also imperative.

A full-fledged digital healthcare system is also bound to invite certain criticisms by the public in general around the suitability, accessibility, reliability and acceptability. India is still struggling to accept and adapt to the sudden wave of internet revolution across all fields (education, finance, consultancy etc.), encouraged by the pandemic. Therefore, keeping in mind, the still struggling internet penetrability in the Indian subcontinent it is of crucial consideration that the data infrastructure does not fail to provide the safety of transactions and look after the privacy concerns of its users. Taking a new step in this direction, the government has to make sure that there are no controversies and no mixed emotions surrounding the project. India has to make sure that it does not step into privacy issues related to controversies that have engulfed the plans of building data health infrastructures worldwide in countries such as Sweden, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Another problem that the users and providers of digital health infrastructure mainly face is the problem of digital identity. There might be situations where people are not ready to expose their identities or to get in touch with somebody, they are not familiar with. Developing this comfort zone is a huge challenge lying in front. A similar kind of problem also persists in the banking and education sector. There are also certain doubts regarding the research in nonprofit uses of data.

The prime and the biggest challenge is simply designing a suitable platform that caters to all the challenges mentioned above. The platform design shall operationalize every deliberation stated above and not ignore any other hindrance in providing the optimum comfort and real-life experience to the users. Collection and maintenance of data including birth records, death records, health care worker records, dispensary records, public hospital records, personal health equipment records, self-declared records of lifestyle indicators, and disease-specific records, poses a huge question mark. The creation of the platform also requires an understanding of how much data is required, how much do we already have and how much still needs to be collected.

All I am trying to say is that the road ahead is full of troubles and challenges. It might be the road less taken but it is the road that awaits to be taken, leading to a more organised, digitised and efficient data structure system. The creation of an effective system that sustains public trust, manages support on the floor of the parliament, builds a transparent process of design and refinement, and considers advantages to both the parties awaits the country. To make the system widely acceptable, it is essential to avoid any kind of half-baked or poorly conceived designs. We should work towards designing not what can be easily designed but what is actually required. While we can understand the immediate urge to speed up the entire process, the conditions of public assurance, safety, and security cannot be undermined. The focus should be more on creating an extremely useful and attractive system and not on releasing it as soon as possible. Let the system be late but make it worth the wait.

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