India wanted to replicate its digital-payment success in healthcare. Taking cues from the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), it set out to establish a similar system and even named it Unified Healthcare Interface (UHI). However, the effort to change the way Indians consume healthcare services, especially online, is turning out to be more challenging than getting Indians to pay digitally.
UHI, to be built on the principles of UPI, aims to help in the discoverability and delivery of health services. Meaning, users would be able to find pharmacies, book ambulances and at-home sample collections from laboratories, and more.
But before all that, the initial target was to allow for teleconsultations—a feature that should have gone live in 2022. It’s still not in sight.
In fact, IT professionals in several companies began testing teleconsultations at scale among them in November 2021. This included health-tech firms—Meddo Doxper, Eka Care, Driefcase, Tata 1mg—insurance company Bajaj Finserv Health, and data-analytics company Finarkein. Of them, only Finarkein confirmed its participation, while others didn’t respond to The Ken’s questions.
This group was brought together by iSpirt (Indian Software Product Industry Round Table), an influential Bengaluru-based think tank with a lot of sway in designing the country’s digital public infrastructure.
“Each one of us was building one component of the network. Finarkein was helping with authentications, Meddo Doxper was creating an end-user application side to it, and so on,” said an executive from one of the above-mentioned firms.
Internally, the target was to allow the public to book services on UHI by 2022, former and current executives close to the National Health Authority (NHA)—the Indian government agency in charge of implementing the interface and the larger health mission—told The Ken. In January last year, the NHA released its protocols that would allow companies to integrate with the health network. But even after that, the progress on UHI has been sluggish, according to eight participants and executives close to the mission.
For comparison, UPI was in the works in the works LiveMint Back UPI is almost like being on a highway without toll gates: Nandan Nilekani Read more for about two years before its 2016 launch.
It was iSpirt’s involvement that was instrumental in getting UPI off the ground. Turns out, it’s also one of the things that are holding back UHI.
The think tank conceptualised UHI in the same vein as UPI. The platform would be open, meaning it would allow any healthcare provider to be part of the network and also be interoperable, meaning users can use any app to access healthcare services.
It was only natural to expect that volunteer-led iSpirt would take UHI to the same heights as UPI and India’s biometric ID programme Aadhaar, as well as its ongoing efforts with the Account Aggregator framework and Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC).