“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act (‘DISHA’) is that firm first step taken by the Indian Government in the long journey to secure the healthcare data of patients in India. The question we need to ask ourselves is that Why DISHA is the need of the hour? Why do we need to safeguard the electronic health record in hospitals?
The draft of the act was made public in November 2017 by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The word ‘Disha’ means direction, the GoI has taken the first step in the direction of safeguarding the digital health record. For this InnovatioCuris has also taken the first step towards having a concrete discussion about ‘Challenges in the implementation and opportunities for making health sector DISHA and data protection ready’. There were panelists from various renowned government, private hospitals, and healthcare IT firms.
The first session was about the ‘Challenges in the implementation of DISHA’. The panelists were happy that InnovatioCuris has taken an initiative to critically discuss the challenges a hospital will face once the act becomes the law. All the panelists agreed that the act lacks various aspects. Few concerns that bother the clinicians are, that who will give the consent if the patient is unconscious.
The ambulances have the capability that it sends the health records from the ambulance to hospital before the patient reaches the hospital for doctors to study the emergency cases. In this scenario, what should be done if a patient denies the consent for sharing the data at a later stage? Should the clinical establishments discard the already shared health record or should they handover the same to the owner (in this case, patient) or what should be done. There are no set protocols defined in the act for such cases.
A question was put forward, does the patient has the authority to edit their health record, or can they view, who have seen their health record. A healthy discussion took place where we got to know that citizens of Estonia have chip cards, where one can see their health record and can also see the logs of who has accessed their health record. This made us realize, that India as a nation state can use Aadhar card as a mechanism, where we can log in into a portal and get to see health records.
The third challenge that came forward was interoperability of health records. As the record lies with the custodian, not the patient, editing and viewing of it can be done by the clinical establishments. The health record can be shared by the clinical establishments to another, but there is no standard on how to transfer it. Data integrity is a point of concern, which is not mentioned in the act.
One of the challenges that came into light was according to ‘Clinical Establishment Act Standards for Hospital’ the hospital has to keep health information and statistics in respect of national programmes, notifiable diseases, and emergencies/disasters/epidemics and furnish the same to the district authorities in the prescribed formats and frequency. The question is what if the patient does not give consent. The proposed act should have a provision where the clinical establishments are liable to take the health data.
As we have unstructured healthcare facilities in India, the act should also empower the clinical establishments by various means to keep the data safe. As of now the DISHA is a proposed act, not a law and has lots of loopholes. It also lacks in many aspects discussed earlier. This is just a start and the government should take necessary steps to improve it.
The second panel discussed on ‘Opportunities for making health sector DISHA and data protection ready’. The panelist consisted of CIO of path labs, owners of healthcare IT firms, who shared relevant thoughts and comments. The panel started the discussion on why do we need the act and what are the benefits of the act. Panelist were grateful to the government to bring the act. They told that the clinical establishments will take steps to increase the safety of the health record.
The gaps in the technology for generation, storage and transmission will be lowered down. Sectors such as banking, financing and insurance have structured their data, but this lacks in healthcare. Detailed scope of security features are missing from the act, this would help the companies to design the software from the ground up by using security as an important consideration.
The imminent threat is in the software which are already in place and have not been patched or the system has not been upgraded. The good news is that many have an audit trail in built in their system, which track any CRUD(creation, read, update, delete) of the records. The discussion contributed a fruitful thought: Data at rest is not encrypted. The question that arises is what is preventing the healthcare IT companies to encrypt the data at rest.
One of the challenge in the DISHA is that, the owner of the data must be informed of any breach of the privacy or confidentiality of their digital health record within three days. But according to IBM report it takes on an average of 197 days to detect a breach. How can the Healthcare IT companies safeguard the health record and let the owner know about the breach. The solution is to encrypt the tables in the database, but that might hamper the performance.
It is a huge opportunity for the stakeholder to bring standards in the act. DISHA might have only completed its first round of comments from the public and stakeholders, it can be expected that the revisions made based on the feedback will churn out a more refined version of the act. In any case, it is evident from the draft that the government has really pushed to provide additional security, privacy and confidentiality for individuals, with respect to their digital health record.