India is mulling over setting up a National eHealth Authority (NeHA) for standardisation, storage and exchange of electronic health records of patients as part of the government’s Digital India programme. The authority, to be set up by an Act of Parliament will work on the integration of multiple health IT systems in a way that ensures security, confidentiality and privacy of patient data.
A centralised electronic health record repository of all citizens which is the ultimate goal of the authority will ensure that the health history and status of all patients would always be available to all health institutions. Such a move would mean the present practice of patients undergoing fresh tests every time they switch doctors would be discontinued and expenditure reduced. This would also expedite diagnosis and treatment. It would also be a repository of full health information that can be processed to generate epidemiological data on a massive scale.
Union Health Ministry has circulated a concept note for the setting up of NeHa, inviting comments from stakeholders.
The authority will have one chairman and four full-time members. The chairman will be an eminent person from the field of medicine or law and three members will be from diverse fields like medicine, public health, IT standards, health economics, management etc. A standing consultative committee would have representations from ministry of health, directorate general of health services, NASSCOM, IRDA, WHO, MCI and consumer rights activists among others.
It will be responsible for formulation of policies, strategies and implementation of plan blueprint of the National eHealth Policy / Strategy.
It will be responsible for the plan’s implementation by both public and private service providers.
The authority will establish a network of different institutions to promote eHealth and tele-medicine and lay down data management, privacy and security policies and also standards and guidelines in accordance with statutory provisions. India had notified standards for electronic medical records in 2013.
Canada in 2002 was one of the first countries to start a federally funded, independent, not-for-profit organisation to lead the development and implementation of electronic health projects. Since then, UK, Australia and Singapore have taken similar measures.
Explained a senior Health Ministry official: “Electronic Health Records and the ability to exchange health information electronically can help the providers to better the quality of care by providing accurate, up-to-date, and complete information about patients at the point of care. Speedy access to patient records is crucial. There will be connectivity between hospitals through a common platform which will support real time information transfer. This will reduce medical errors. Besides, this will also mean better maintenance of documentation.”