(Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission)
needs a vitamin shot ?.

India’s healthcare landscape is evolving, and at the heart of this transformation lies the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM). Launched with the promise of revolutionizing healthcare access, delivery, and affordability, ABDM holds immense potential. However, like any ambitious endeavor, it faces its fair share of challenges. In this article, we delve deep into ABDM, exploring its objectives, promises, and the obstacles it confronts on its journey to usher in a digital healthcare revolution in India.


With other digital platforms like (esp in the Fintech space) like ONDC, AA (Account Aggregator), OCEN etc. these infrastructure bases are gaining traction. However, one such platform that was to revolutionize the healthcare sector ie. ABDM (Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission) seems to be flailing. Here is a quick review on what we believe needs to be done to give it a “vitamin” shot.

I. Introduction

The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, often referred to simply as ABDM, is a critical healthcare initiative launched by the Indian government. It aims to leverage digital technology to transform the nation’s healthcare system, making it more accessible, efficient, and affordable for all citizens. ABDM is a key component of the broader Ayushman Bharat Program, which seeks to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by providing financial protection and quality healthcare services to all Indians.

II. Overview of ABDM

Before delving into the challenges, let’s first understand the key components and objectives of ABDM:

Health ID: One of ABDM’s cornerstones is the creation of a unique Health ID for every citizen. This digital identifier is intended to serve as a comprehensive health record, containing medical history, prescriptions, and diagnostic reports.

Digital Health Ecosystem: ABDM aims to create an integrated digital health ecosystem, connecting patients, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders through a common platform. This interconnectedness is expected to facilitate seamless data exchange and healthcare service delivery.

Telemedicine: ABDM envisions a significant expansion of telemedicine services, allowing patients to consult with healthcare professionals remotely. This is especially crucial for those residing in remote or underserved areas.

Pharmacy Benefits Management: The mission includes a Pharmacy Benefits Management system to streamline the distribution of medicines and reduce costs.

Data Privacy and Security: Recognizing the sensitivity of health data, ABDM emphasizes robust data privacy and security measures to protect citizens’ personal health information.

III. The Promises of ABDM

ABDM holds several promises that have captured the imagination of policymakers and healthcare experts:

Improved Healthcare Access: Through the creation of Health IDs and the promotion of telemedicine, ABDM intends to bridge the gap in healthcare access, particularly for those in rural and underserved areas.

Cost Savings: By reducing duplication of tests and improving prescription management, ABDM aims to lower healthcare costs for both individuals and the government.

Efficient Healthcare Delivery: The digital ecosystem proposed by ABDM promises to streamline healthcare delivery, reducing administrative burdens on healthcare providers and improving the overall efficiency of the system.

Better Health Outcomes: With comprehensive health records and improved data sharing, ABDM is expected to contribute to better health outcomes by enabling more accurate diagnoses and personalized treatment plans.

IV. Challenges and Ailments

While ABDM carries immense potential, it is not without its challenges. Several issues and concerns have emerged that need to be addressed for the mission to achieve its goals effectively:

Technological Challenges

Implementing a vast digital healthcare infrastructure is a formidable task, and it comes with its technological hurdles. Some of these challenges include:

  • – Interoperability: Ensuring that different healthcare systems and databases can seamlessly exchange information is a complex task. ABDM needs to establish standardized protocols and ensure interoperability among various healthcare providers and systems.
  • – Digital Divide: India’s digital divide is a significant concern. While urban areas have access to advanced digital healthcare services, rural and remote regions often lack the necessary infrastructure and connectivity.

Data Privacy and Security Concerns

With the vast amount of sensitive health data being collected and shared, data privacy and security are paramount. Some of the concerns include:

  • – Data Breaches: The risk of data breaches is a constant threat, potentially compromising the confidentiality of patients’ health information. Robust security measures and strict regulations are essential to mitigate this risk.
  • – Informed Consent: Ensuring that patients fully understand how their health data is being used and obtaining their informed consent for data sharing can be challenging.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

ABDM’s success hinges on its ability to reach all segments of the population, including those in remote areas and individuals with limited digital literacy. Challenges include:

  • – Digital Literacy: A significant portion of the population lacks digital literacy, making it difficult for them to navigate and benefit from digital healthcare services.
  • – Rural Infrastructure: Many rural areas lack the necessary infrastructure, including reliable electricity and internet connectivity, to support digital healthcare initiatives.
  • Infrastructure Gaps

The success of ABDM depends on the availability of robust healthcare infrastructure across the country. Challenges in this regard include:

  • – Healthcare Facilities: Many areas, especially in rural India, still lack adequate healthcare facilities and skilled healthcare professionals.
  • – Medical Equipment: Ensuring that healthcare facilities have access to modern medical equipment and technology is crucial for the success of ABDM.
  • Healthcare Provider Engagement

For ABDM to be effective, healthcare providers must actively participate in the mission. Challenges include:

  • – Resistance to Change: Some healthcare providers may be resistant to adopting new digital tools and processes, leading to slow implementation.
  • – Training and Education: Healthcare professionals need adequate training and education to effectively use digital healthcare systems.

V. Government Initiatives and Responses

Recognizing these challenges, the Indian government has taken several steps to address them:

Policy Reforms: The government has introduced policy reforms and regulatory frameworks to safeguard health data and promote interoperability.

Digital Literacy Programs: Initiatives are in place to improve digital literacy, especially in rural areas.

Infrastructure Development: The government is investing in improving healthcare infrastructure, including the expansion of telemedicine services and the establishment of digital health centers.

VI. Lessons from Other Countries

India can learn valuable lessons from other countries that have successfully implemented digital healthcare initiatives. For example:

Estonia: Estonia’s digital health system, known as e-Estonia, offers comprehensive electronic health records and secure data sharing, serving as a model for data privacy and interoperability.

Singapore: Singapore’s HealthHub platform provides citizens with access to their health records, appointments, and telemedicine services, showcasing the potential of a digital healthcare ecosystem.

VII. Potential Solutions and Future Prospects

To address the challenges faced by ABDM, several potential solutions can be considered:

Investment in Rural Infrastructure: To bridge the digital divide, the government should focus on improving internet connectivity and electricity supply in rural areas.

Strengthening Data Security: Robust data security measures and strict regulations should be in place to protect health data from breaches.

Digital Literacy Programs: Widespread digital literacy programs can empower citizens to take full advantage of digital healthcare services.

Provider Engagement: Encouraging healthcare providers to actively participate in the mission through incentives, training, and support can accelerate adoption.

Continuous Monitoring: Regular assessments and feedback mechanisms should be established to identify and address ongoing challenges.

VIII. The VITAMIN booster plan

The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission is a visionary initiative with the potential to revolutionize healthcare in India. While it faces several challenges, ranging from technological hurdles to data security concerns, these obstacles can be overcome with strategic planning, government support, and stakeholder collaboration. As India continues its path towards universal healthcare coverage, ABDM remains a beacon of hope, offering the promise of better healthcare access, affordability, and outcomes for all its citizens.

Here is a list of actions that can be taken at a “policy” level.

  • The government should develop a comprehensive awareness campaign about ABDM. This campaign should target both healthcare providers and patients.
  • The government should work with standards bodies to develop interoperable standards for healthcare data. This will make it easier for different systems to share information.
  • The government should establish a dedicated cybersecurity unit to protect patient data in the ABDM system. This unit should develop and implement security policies and procedures.
  • The government should provide financial incentives to healthcare providers that adopt ABDM. This will help to encourage the widespread adoption of the system.
  • The government should invest in training programs for healthcare workers on how to use ABDM. This will help to ensure that the system is used effectively.

Given that some of the above may seem “motherhood” statements, just to get to a few actionable initiatives, we are listing specific actions that we believe will lead to better adoption.

Awareness Campaigns & outreach including Panchayats, School & College:  

  • Launch nationwide awareness campaigns through television, radio, and social media, highlighting the benefits of Ayushman Bharat and how to enroll like the currently running campaign titled “Vishwakarma” scheme.
  • Include influencers within the family esp. the children and young adults. We believe this can be a series of HOW-TO sessions and enable this by releasing training material (that is inclusive in nature) and bring in students.
  • Train and empower ASHA workers and Anganwadi workers to help with the enrollment process and provide information about Ayushman Bharat at the grassroots level. Incentivize enrollment with a small fee if necessary.
  • Involve local community leaders and influencers to promote Ayushman Bharat within their communities (even if it means using religious community influencers).

Enhance Public-Public & Public-Private Partnerships:

  • Offer financial incentives to states that achieve high enrollment and utilization rates, encouraging their active participation including extending local language and tele-medicine support.
  • Streamline the registration process by allowing online enrollment (including local language and PHC personnel) through a user-friendly website and mobile app, reducing paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles like what was done during COWIN vaccine registration.
  • Collaborate with private hospitals and healthcare providers to expand the network of empaneled hospitals, ensuring wider access to healthcare services including offering financial support on a “co-participation” model for enlisting individuals at risk e.g. Pre-diabetic and diabetic patients.
  • Identify and target specific vulnerable groups like women, children, and senior citizens for enrollment drives and specialized healthcare services.

Financial, Payment, Insurance Literacy Programs:

  • Conduct financial literacy programs to educate beneficiaries about the financial aspects of the scheme, such as co-payment and reimbursement processes. Integrate into the DBT platforms.
  • Allow beneficiaries to receive reimbursements and make payments through mobile wallet apps, making transactions more convenient.
  • Organize workshops and seminars in communities to improve insurance literacy and help people understand the benefits of health insurance.

Regular Updates and Transparency:

  • Maintain an updated online portal with information on empaneled hospitals, treatment packages, and claims processing to build trust.

By addressing these challenges, the government can make ABDM a reality and improve healthcare in India. As the mission evolves, it is imperative that the government, healthcare professionals, and the public work together to ensure that ABDM’s promises are fully realized. In doing so, India can take significant strides toward a healthier and more digitally connected future.