Will Unified Healthcare Interface transform healthcare the way UPI changed payments?

With the UPI and India Stack, the country’s financial ecosystem has become seamless and user-friendly. Can UHI (Unified Healthcare Interface) do the same for healthcare with digital infrastructure?

Will Unified Healthcare Interface transform healthcare the way UPI changed payments?

Thursday December 22, 2022,

5 min Read

Today, making a payment in India is as easy as scanning a QR code. From a five-star restaurant to a paani poori vendor, UPI has permeated into all strata of society and has made B2C transactions seamless. 

Now, the government is looking to replicate the concept’s success in healthcare with the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (or the ABDM). A key project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the ABDM aims to be a health information superhighway that consensually connects everyone associated with your care. So, if you are consulting a doctor, you can access a patient’s lab history with just a click. 

The implications of truly connected digital healthcare are immense—better quality of care, superior patient experience, cheaper and faster insurance processing, and ultimately, universal health coverage.  

A glimpse of an ABDM-like infrastructure can be seen in how Southeast Asian countries handled COVID-19. While the pandemic tested India’s health infrastructure, countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan learned from the lessons of epidemics like SARS, H1N1, and MERS and set up specialised agencies.

These institutions have advanced technological systems involving nationwide public health networks that centralise information, carry out surveillance, and offer diagnostics.

Building an interoperable system 

ABDM has three components that streamline the healthcare delivery process: 

1) Central systems such as the health ID, UHI (Unified Healthcare Interface), and healthcare registries, 

2) Patient-facing systems or apps, 

3) Provider-facing systems used by hospitals, labs, clinics, etc. 

Speaking to YourStory, Dr Basant Garg, Additional CEO and Mission Director, ABDM National Health Authority says like how UPI offered a secure and easy interface for all stakeholders, UHI is also an intricate part of the ABDM ecosystem. 

UHI is envisioned as an interoperable digital health network which will enable patients to book and avail health services through any application of their choice. 

“The current health ecosystem demands that the patient and provider be on the same platform for a patient to avail a service. Through UHI, patients will be able to book appointments, teleconsultations and other services regardless of the application chosen by the provider. This paradigm shift in healthcare delivery will give rise to a sea of opportunities for the emerging healthtech ecosystem,” says Dr Basant. 

The role of startups 

Driefcase is the first patient-side app to be fully integrated into ABDM. It not only facilitates the creation of a government-issued Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA) address but also manages consents for the movement of records and links existing records into ABDM. 

The startup provides secure, easy-to-use access to personal health records, enabling users to maintain their family medical records online and access them anytime. It is the only health locker in India equipped with teams that can reach the doorstep and scan all health records of users, including radiology reports such as X-rays and MRIs.

DRiefcase is also working towards creating products for other stakeholders, such as hospitals, doctors, and other healthtech players to integrate them into the ABDM. 

“DRiefcase was founded with the aim to bridge the information gap that exists between patients and caregivers, and through them, the other stakeholders in the ecosystem, such as pharma companies, insurance companies and governments,” explains Sohit Kapoor, Co-founder, DRiefcase. 

Understanding the use cases 

The first use case of ABDM is the faster OPD registration service that has recently been launched at a few public hospitals in Delhi, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh. 

The service allows old as well as new patients to simply scan a QR Code and share their demographic details like name, father name, age, gender, address, mobile number etc with the hospital. This helps to reduce the time taken at the OPD registration counter and gives hospitals accurate data about the patient. 

Further, the National Health Authority plans to launch more layers on the ABDM. These include: 

Unified Healthcare Interface (UHI): It is a network of open protocols that enable interoperability and focuses on the discoverability and delivery of health services. While the current ABDM building blocks enable the interoperable exchange of personal health data and provide registries for doctors, patients, and health facilities, UHI leverages that to provide a seamless end-to-end experience for users. Through UHI-enabled applications, patients can discover, book, conduct, and pay for services offered by a variety of participating providers from any application of their choice.

Health Claims Exchange (HCX): A digital platform for settling health claims, HCX envisions transforming the way health insurance claims are processed by reducing cost and waiting time, and enabling new use cases like OPD insurance, etc. 

About 1,100 applications are currently in the sandbox for ABDM integration. Of these, about 70 have integrated so far. These include PHR apps such as DRiefcase, Aarogya Setu, Paytm, Eka etc, as well as hospitals and labs including Apollo, Narayana Health, SRL, Dr Lal PathLabs etc.

An ambitious plan

Speaking to YourStory on the feasibility, an analyst of a consulting firm adds, “Like the financial systems, healthcare globally is broken. There is a need for digitisation. If that can be replicated like how UPI has been replicated in India, we will truly stand out as a global tech leader.” 

The analyst explains that most healthcare apps and systems today require the patient to stick to their own platforms. A user has to download multiple apps and platforms but the interoperability offered by UHI will give complete access to any healthcare provider.

While onboarding users is crucial, Sohit says that the success of ABDM will also depend on how quickly healthcare providers adopt it.

“There are more than 1.5 million doctors, 70,000 hospitals, and thousands of diagnostic centres—all of which will also need to be plugged into ABDM. We aim to combine our product expertise and a good understanding of ABDM to create a suite of plug-and-play ABDM-linked repositories for various providers,” he says. 

(The article was updated to correct the expansion of UHI.)

Edited by Kanishk Singh