- The information technology-driven tools making their presence dynamically on a perpetual basis have revolutionized the way humankind goes about their daily chores. The dramatic alterations witnessed with this amazing technology were on full display during the height of the pandemic when the global community was better served despite encountering tremendous challenges. Ever since the present dispensation took charge at the Centre, the thrust is placed on pushing ahead with the digitization endeavours that have largely been accepted as a game-changer allowing various social welfare schemes to reach intended beneficiaries. However, one of the concerns is about the data safety aspects that cannot be ignored or brushed under the carpet.
- Interestingly, Bill Gates during his recent visit pertinently spoke of effective surveillance and early warning systems as crucial in forestalling future pandemics. Public health surveillance viz. identification, collation, and analysis of disease occurrence is the bedrock of national healthcare architecture. Looking back, a watershed moment in the Indian public healthcare sector was the outbreak of plague in Surat in 1994. It not only catalysed the creation of the National Apical Advisory Committee in 1995 but was also followed by the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project in 2004 and the Integrated Health Information Platform in 2019.
- Public health institutions tracking disease occurrence based on data generated by states are the primary disease surveillance arms. Notably, their performance so far has been less than optimal as they often function in silos. As such, the advent of digital models should correct this shortcoming. Mind you, digital models are set to bring far-reaching changes in public health surveillance by expanding sources of data collation to the private sector, which is an important component of the overall healthcare system. Indications are that over the next decade, digital identifiers and integrated systems will greatly expand the surveillance footprint. The tools to realise it is unique health identifiers (UHID) for individuals and their Aadhaar.
- As envisaged, these will go into creating electronic health records spanning private sector healthcare providers expected to be integrated with the public disease surveillance programmes. Further, given the potential of digital models to generate huge troves of data, the bigger challenge may be to develop capabilities to analyse and interpret them well. Also, it may not be an adequacy of data, but a shortage of skills in using it. Moreover, digital models aren’t regulated as yet by a robust personal data protection bill. Health data is sensitive and anecdotal evidence suggests that voluntary dimensions to rules on UHID are often violated. Thus, having adequate data security becomes imperative. The Union Government must move fast enough on this.