NEW DELHI/RANCHI: Within days of the official launch of the Centre's health insurance scheme for 50 crore Indians, two senior government functionaries have come under attack for having put out crucial patient data in the public domain.
On Sunday, the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the PM Jan Aarogya Abhiyan in Ranchi, a senior official attached with the programme shared on Twitter details of the medical condition of four patients admitted at Ranchi Institute of Medical Sciences under the scheme.
On Monday, Himanta Biswa Sarma, health minister in BJP-ruled Assam, tweeted details of about 25 beneficiaries hospitalised in Assam under the programme, and was criticised for breaching ethics on patient data privacy.
"Sadly, there seems to be a class bias in tweets that gave out privileged patient information as if it doesn't matter because these are nameless, faceless poor people. Do we know what Manohar Parrikar (Goa Chief Minister) is suffering from officially?" tweeted economist Rupa Subramanya.
In response to a query by this paper, the PMJAY official insisted that he had taken "consent" from the patients before revealing their medical condition on social media, but when Express contacted the patients on Tuesday, they denied having given any such permission.
Vijay Prasad of Latehar and others categorically said that they had not been asked for permission before their names and medical condition were made public.
Medico-legal experts pointed out that in India, patient confidentiality, a very strong concept in the West, was not covered under any law and was only governed by Medical Council of India's guidelines on ethics for healthcare providers.
"The MCI code of ethics bars healthcare providers from revealing any patient records or details to anybody else without their permission, but what the bureaucrat and minister have done is completely avoidable," said Shantanu Dutta of Centre for Bioethics.
The ethical violations by the government functionaries have come at a time when the government is in the process of formulating the draft Digital Information in Healthcare Security Act, which says that any health data is the property of the person it pertains to.
The proposed act marks physical, physiological and mental health condition, sexual orientation, medical records and history and biometric information as confidential data, and proposes a five-year jail term or a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh for violators.