If you’ve received the Covid vaccine in India using your Aadhaar card as proof of identity, there’s a fair chance that a Unique Health ID (UHID) has been generated under your name. The UHID is a 14-digit number that can be used by Indian citizens to store all their health records in one place. Think real-time payments system like the UPI—a single ID linked to a bank account—but for health. It could even look like the UPI ID—[email protected]  

These health IDs are crucial for the government’s larger digital health plans—the Unique Health Interface (UHI). The idea, floated under the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM), proposes that all doctors, hospitals, labs, pharmacies, and health tech companies plug into a central ecosystem for free exchange of health data.

ABDM was set up as a pilot programme called the National Digital Health Mission, announced on 26 January 2020. Since then, the National Health Authority (NHA)—the government agency responsible for ABDM—has seen the creation of over 165 million such IDs.

The programme wants to do three things at once: 

  1. Get patients to use their health IDs and start uploading their health records onto private apps that have integrated with its platform
  2. Get all labs, hospitals, and doctors to register with it to digitise services
  3. Get all of these entities to start talking to each other and exchange health data with patients’ consent 

On paper, it’s a neat package that offers easy access to doctors, patients, and the myriad healthtech companies fighting for customer attention. Currently, 27 entities—including 17 private players—have signed up to be integrated into UHI. This includes the likes of Apollo Hospitals and Fortis group’s SRL Labs, and health startups like eka.care and DRiefcase. DRiefcase, for instance, shows up in the government-run National Health Records app as a locker that’s integrated with ABDM, serving as a vault for a user’s health records. Fintechs like Paytm*, financial services company Bajaj Finserv and insurtech company PolicyBazaar—all of which have a health vertical—have also come on board. 

Reality has a way of punching holes in paper, however. Assigning a health ID to a user requires their explicit consent, a requirement that NHA seems to have overlooked in an attempt to shore up numbers. Health IDs were generated when Indians got their vaccine shots through CoWIN, without without The Ken The digital health ID hack Read more their informed consent. CoWIN is a portal operated by NHA solely for the purpose of booking Covid vaccination slots, but seems to have worked as an ancillary of sorts for ABDM. According to official records available available ABDM ABDM dashboard Read more with NHA, over 77% of these IDs—over 127 million—were created through CoWIN. 

AUTHOR

Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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