10 Mar 2012

Legal Enablement Of E-Health In India Is Needed

Information and communication technology (ICT) is a real enabler to strengthen healthcare industry of India. Whether it is telemedicine, e-health or any similar concept, technology is central to the successful implementation of these projects.

For some strange reason, health industry of India has neither being given a technology boost nor an appropriate legal framework has been formulated for it by the Indian government. For instance, very few health care industry players in India are using ICT for providing health related services. Similarly, e-health in India is facing legal roadblocks. Till now we do not have any dedicated e-health laws and regulations in India.

Legal enablement of e-health in India is urgently required. When technology is used for medical purposes, it gives rise to medico legal and techno legal issues. In United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), etc are some of the laws that take care of medico legal and techno legal issues of e-health and telemedicine.

As far as India is concerned, we have no dedicated e-health and telemedicine laws in India. Even essential attributes of these laws like privacy protection, data protection, data security, cyber security, confidentiality maintenance, etc are not governed by much needed dedicated laws.

Now health ministry of India has given some hints that it would use technology for health related issues in India. It has decided to utilise technologies like Skype and technological concepts like biometrics, m-health, e-health, etc for India's primary health centres (PHCs) and sub-centres.

Although the intentions of health ministry may be good yet its implementation is flawed from the very beginning. Health ministry is committing the same blunder that Aadhar project of India has committed. Collecting and using sensitive biometric and personal details without privacy law, data protection law, data security law, etc is counter productive.

There are no procedural and technological safeguards in place in India till now that can protect privacy and data rights of Indian citizens from misuses and e-surveillance. This may be the reason why Aadhar project may be scrapped in the long run. The technological initiatives of health ministry may also face similar fate.

In short, for the successful implementation of e-health and telemedicine in India, legal enablement of the same is absolutely required. Till now neither the Indian government nor the health ministry has provided any information in this regard. Till legal enablement of e-health in India is achieved all initiatives in this direction may prove counter productive.