With COVID-19 no longer posing a grave public health threat, the Aarogya Setu and CoWIN applications are being modified to address India’s emerging digital health needs. The central government is working on repurposing the two digital health platforms, that were used to monitor and manage the COVID-19 pandemic, to manage other public health concerns, under the umbrella of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission.
Under its flagship scheme Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, the Centre is planning to repurpose the two apps to support the overarching digitization drive to transform the way public health is delivered in the country. Launched as a contact-tracing app for COVID-19, Aarogya Setu is now being repurposed as India’s health and wellness application. CoWIN has been extensively used in implementing Covid-19 vaccination and will now be used for India’s universal immunization program. It will be repurposed for the immunization program and as a health management information system for small doctors.
COVID-19 produced two important digital health solutions, the Aarogya Setu and the CoWin apps, both built for a scale of a billion plus. Developed by the National Health Authority, both apps have proven to be robust and are built on interoperable infrastructure. There have been 240 million downloads of Arogya Setu so far and it has a large active user base. In addition to being used for COVID-19-related contact tracing to check risk factors, it also enables ICMR guidelines-based self-assessment, COVID-19 vaccine booking, certificate download, and status check, generating e-Pass, search for ICMR-approved labs providing COVID-19 testing facilities, helpline contacts, and other COVID-19 statistics and updates. This integration with ABDM will add additional features to the app.
CoWIN has over 1 billion registered users to date, which is the total number of beneficiaries registered via online and offline modes. The integration of various resources is the primary focus of digitization of processes in healthcare institutions. As a result, the goal of the ABDM is to bridge the gap between the various stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem.
The National Health Authority (NHA) under ABDM announced in February this year, the integration of this flagship scheme with Aarogya Setu. This integration takes the benefits of the 14-digit unique ABHA (Ayushman Bharat Health Account) number to the Aarogya Setu user base and beyond. Under the ABDM, a user can generate their unique ABHA number. They can use the ABHA number to link their existing and new medical records including doctor prescriptions, lab reports, hospital records, etc., and also share these records with registered health professionals and health service providers and also access other digital health services whilst maintaining a common pool of medical history.
The recent announcement was made late last month at the Arogya Manthan 2022, convened to mark the completion of four years of the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana and one year of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission. Mr. RS Sharma, chief executive of the National Health Authority, said at the event that the Aarogya Setu, launched in 2020, will aid individuals to book health checkups and verify appointments via QR code bypassing queues in hospitals. He added that when citizens go to a hospital, they will not have to stand in a queue to register themselves; instead, they will be able to scan and get the OPD card. He added that in addition to COVID-19 vaccination, CoWIN will soon be used to find and get other 12 essential vaccines under the national immunization programme, such as the polio drops.
The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission was launched on September 27, 2021. It seeks to develop the foundations of an integrated digital health infrastructure in India, connecting the different stakeholders of the healthcare ecosystem through digital pathways. Its building blocks are digital systems consisting of digital health IDs, registries of health professionals and facilities, and patient health records. Currently, there are separate web portals for each system. Within a year of launch, the digital mission has crossed the landmark of 10 million digitally linked health records, with over 2.7 million records linked in a day, according to data shared by the health authority. Also, at least 150,000 health facilities have been registered in the Health Facility Registry, and around 80,00 health care professionals have been registered under the Healthcare Professionals Registry. So far, 7 lakh plus Ayushman Bharat Health Account application downloads have taken place.
India in the past decade has developed a number of digital public platforms, such as Aadhar, UPI (united payments interface), electronic KYC, and DigiLocker among others. Through the ABDM, the government is trying to achieve digitization in the healthcare space too. The pandemic has simultaneously accelerated the digital health solution adaptability among patients and doctors. Digital solutions like e-health, teleconsultation, and telemedicine were on the rise during the pandemic and will be continued.
The NHA announced the expansion of the digital health ecosystem being built under ABDM with successful integrations of 52 digital health applications. In the last two months, additional 12 health service applications completed their integration across various milestones in the ABDM sandbox environment. After a successful demonstration, these applications were added to the ABDM partners’ ecosystem. The tally now includes 20 government applications and 32 private sector applications. Some of the important government health applications include the HMIS (Hospital Management Information System) for the Central Government Hospital Scheme (CGHS), the Hospital Management System by NICE-HMS, Anmol Application of the National Health Mission, and eSanjeevani of the AB-HWC among others. This collaborative approach towards digitization of healthcare delivery can help India achieve its goal of providing healthcare for all in an efficient and affordable manner.
Photo Credits: CNTI