Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday launched the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), saying it has the “potential to bring revolutionary change to Indian healthcare facilities”. The flagship digital initiative involves the creation not only of a unique health identifier for each citizen, but also of a digital register of health professionals and establishments.

What is Unique Health ID and how do I get it?

If a person wants to be part of ABDM, they have to create a health identifier, which is a 14-digit number that is randomly generated. The ID will be widely used for three purposes: unique identification, authentication and threading of the beneficiary’s health records, only with their informed consent, across multiple systems and stakeholders.

One can obtain a health identifier by self-registering on the portal or by downloading the ABMD Health Records application on his mobile. In addition, one can also request the creation of a health identifier at a participating health facility, which may include public or private hospitals, community health centers and Indian government wellness centers.

The beneficiary will also need to configure a personal health record (PHR) address for consent management and for future sharing of health records.

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What is a PHR address?

This is a simple self-declared username, which the beneficiary must log into a Health Information Exchange and Consent Manager (HIE-CM). Each health identifier will require a link to a consent manager to allow sharing of health records data.

A HIE-CM is an application for sharing and linking a user’s personal health records. Currently, the health ID can be used to register on the HIE-CM; the National Health Authority (NHA), however, says multiple consent managers will likely be available for patients to choose from in the near future.

What do I need to register for a health identity card?

Currently, ABDM supports creating health IDs via mobile or Aadhaar. The official website says that ABDM will soon roll out features that will support the creation of a health ID with a PAN card or driver’s license. For creating a mobile or Aadhaar health identifier, the beneficiary will be asked to share details of name, year of birth, gender, address, mobile / Aadhaar number.

Is Aadhaar compulsory?

No, it’s voluntary. You can use your mobile number to register, without Aadhaar.

Can I use my Aadhaar number if it is not linked to my mobile number?

If the beneficiary chooses the option to use their Aadhaar number, an OTP will be sent to the mobile number linked to the Aadhaar. However, if she has not linked it to her mobile, the beneficiary must go to the nearest establishment and opt for biometric authentication using the Aadhaar number. After successful authentication, she will get her health number at the participating facility.

Are personal health records secure?

The NHA says that the ABDM does not store any of the health records of beneficiaries. The recordings are stored with the health information providers in accordance with their “retention policies” and are “shared” on the ABDM network “with encryption mechanisms” only after the express consent of the recipient.

Can I delete my health ID and leave the platform?

Yes, the NHA says that ABDM supports such functionality. Two options are available: a user can permanently delete or temporarily deactivate his health identifier.

Upon deletion, the Unique Health ID will be permanently deleted along with all demographic details. The beneficiary will no longer be able to retrieve the information associated with this health identifier in the future and will never be able to access ABDM applications or health records on the ABDM network with the deleted identifier.

In the event of deactivation, the beneficiary will lose access to all ABDM applications only during the deactivation period. Until she reactivates her health identifier, she will not be able to share the identifier in a health facility or share health records on the ABDM network.

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What facilities are available to beneficiaries?

You can access your digital health records from admission through treatment and discharge. Second, you can access your personal medical records and link them to your medical ID card to create a longitudinal health history.

What other features will be deployed?

New upcoming features will allow access to verified doctors across the country. The beneficiary can create a health card for her child and a digital health record from birth. Third, she can add a candidate to access her health number and view or help manage personal health records. In addition, there will be very inclusive access, with health identification available to people who do not have a phone, using assisted methods.

How do private actors associate with a government digital ID?

The NHA has launched the NDHM Sandbox: a digital architecture that allows private actors to be part of the national digital health ecosystem as providers of health information or users of health information.

The private player sends a request to the NHA to test their system with the Sandbox environment. The NHA then gives the private player a key to access the Sandbox environment and the Health Identification Application Programming Interface (API). The private player must then create a Sandbox health identifier, integrate their software into the API; and register software to test link records and process health data consent requests. Once the system has been tested, the system will request a demonstration from the NHA to proceed. After a successful demonstration, the NHA certifies and trains the private hospital.

Why is this initiative important?

As the Prime Minister pointed out on Monday, the initiative has the potential to “increase the comfort of life” as well as “simplify procedures in hospitals”.

At present, the use of digital health identification in hospitals is currently limited to a single hospital or a single group, and mainly concentrated in large private chains. The new initiative will bring the entire ecosystem together on a single platform.

For example, if a patient is being treated at AIIMS, Delhi, and wants to move to another hospital in another city, and that hospital is also part of the centralized ecosystem, the patient does not have to carry a physical health record or a record of several years of treatment, as medical history is readily available.

The system also makes it easier to find the doctors and specialists closest to you. Currently, many patients rely on recommendations from family and friends for a medical consultation, but now the new platform will tell the patient who to turn to and who is closest. Additionally, labs and pharmacies will be easily identified for better testing using the new platform.


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