By Dr Sushant Khurana
In an era marked by global concerns such as the pandemic, poverty, and accessibility to healthcare, Digital Health platforms and related technologies continue to rapidly grow and evolve. In India, the majority of patients (60%) and physicians (65%) are getting inclined towards digital platforms over in-person consultations. Currently, India witnesses 2,00,000 to 3,00,000 telemedicine consultations per day, with 80% of these being first-time users in both urban and rural areas. It is estimated that India needs twice the number of doctors and thrice the number of nurses than it has today. India only has one physician for every 10,000+ people which is much lower than WHO’s recommended ratio of 1:1000. The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission has already generated over 243 million health accounts and IDs, making it one of the world’s largest health databases.
Digital Health is driving advancements in healthcare and uncovering new opportunities
Sources like electronic health records (EHR), mobile health apps, wearable devices, and gadgets are generating large amounts of patient data. This data offers new ways to monitor patient health, tailor medicines for personalized treatments, and enhance health outcomes at an overall population level. Huge volumes of data, big data, can also be used to predict potential patient outcomes like identifying those who might be at risk of developing certain diseases and to predict the success rate of various treatment regimes. Digital Health not only has the potential to improve disease prevention, but also improve diagnosis accuracy, provide safer medication, and make treatments more effective. However, large volumes of patient data also call for corresponding measures to ensure patients’ data security and confidentiality.
Evolution of India’s data security measures in healthcare
Most prominent regulation in healthcare globally is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was enacted in the US in 1996, and has been revised numerous times to ensure high data privacy standards with advancement in technologies and healthcare delivery and patient engagement models. HIPAA sets benchmarks for security requirements of Protected Health Information (PHI), which the whole world looks to for guidance and compliance. Till a few years back, the legal framework for e-health protection in India was primarily governed by provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which was the primary law in India providing protection for the collection, disclosure, and transfer of sensitive personal data, including medical records and history. In 2019, the Indian Government passed the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP Bill), a general law for the processing of personal data by the State, any Indian and/or foreign company, any Indian citizen, or any person or body of persons incorporated under Indian law. In March 2020, the Indian Government, for the first time, introduced telemedicine practice guidelines to regulate the increasing telemedicine adoption due to the pandemic. With the rapid advancement in Digital Health and related technologies, the Indian Government has proposed DISHA (Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act), a special law laying down provisions to regulate the generation, collection, access, storage, transmission, and use of Digital Health Data (DHD) and associated Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
Private players are adopting robust measures to ensure patient privacy and data security, complying with government guidelines
Digital Health players have become an important part of the overall healthcare landscape in recent years, with a wide range of offerings including fitness & wellness, personal health management, diagnostic testing, teleconsultation, online pharmacy and home healthcare. These Digital Health players have policies and procedures in place to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations for safeguarding patient data privacy and security. These players obtain and document informed consent from patients before collecting, employing, or disclosing any personal health information. This process involves providing patients with transparent and concise information regarding their data usage and obtaining their explicit consent before collecting or utilizing it. This is backed by strong security measures such as encrypting patient data, installing secure servers and firewalls, and consistently updating security protocols to safeguard patient data from unauthorized access, theft, or misuse. These players also have stringent controls to ensure only authorized personnel have access to patient data which may involve implementing login systems and access controls. Relevant best practices regarding data security are enabled by providing the right training to employees which include proper handling and maintaining confidentiality and anonymity of patient data. With such measures the new age Digital Health players are gaining patients’ trust and enabling the tectonic shift on how healthcare is delivered, catering to the evolving expectations of tech-savvy patients.
(The author is the Vice-President of Medical Excellence at Pristyn Care. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)