India will provide ID cards that store all your medical data

The Health ID cards could be convenient, but raise privacy concerns.

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Frontline COVID-19 coronavirus warriors such as health workers, patients ambulance drivers, crematorium workers, wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits hold Indian national flags as part of the Independence Day celebrations in Kolkata on August 15, 2020. - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a new warning to China over deadly border tensions on August 15, using his most important speech of the year to promise to build a stronger military. (Photo by Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP) (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

India is about to make a big gamble on health data. The country has announced plans (via NDTV) to give every Indian a “Health ID” card that stores medical information like conditions and prescriptions in a “common database.” Doctors and pharmacies will update it with each physical or virtual visit. Ideally, you’d never have to brief doctors on your history or worry that they’ll prescribe a conflicting treatment.

The government is at least somewhat aware of privacy issues. Card owners would have to grant temporary access to their data with each use, ideally preventing abuse and security issues.

There are still some concerns about the safety of the data. If someone steals your card, can they access and manipulate your info? For that matter, the move also raises questions about the security of the database and the potential difficulties if you don’t have your card in an emergency.

There wasn’t a mention of a timeframe for when the cards would be ready.

The move comes just as India wants every village in the country to be connected with fiber optic cable in the next 1,000 days.

There’s certainly pressure to rethink data. India has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with tens of thousands of new infections per day. Health ID cards won’t necessarily be ready in time to meaningfully address COVID-19, but they could help contain similar diseases by ensuring consistent treatment and vaccine delivery. However, this assumes the card system works as well as promised — and with nearly 1.4 billion people, that’s a daunting challenge.

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