How Unique Health IDs are Supporting Improved Health Care

Women wait with their children in the Alhaz Johurul Islam City Maternity Centre at Mirpur, Dhaka. Photo credit: ADB.

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The use of unique identification in health systems is improving the quality of health care, cutting costs, and decreasing fraud.


Unique IDs are tools to uniquely identify patients and improve governance in a health system. In many countries, health information systems and health programs are fragmented. Patients either have multiple IDs from various health services or no ID at all, and health information is collected only in an aggregated manner.

Unique health IDs can be used to improve health information systems and make various program and insurance information systems interoperable. This ensures that reliable and correct data about an individual can be collected, that a uniquely identified person gets the services to which he or she is entitled, and that practitioners are able to make better predictions about people’s health needs.

Why do Unique IDs matter?

Unique IDs are a key tool in ensuring that health information systems help clients get the services to which they are entitled and that health service delivery is efficient. They also help provide a continuum of care throughout a person’s life cycle and collect evidence for the planning of health services.

This 3-part video series was developed for the Asia eHealth Information Network’s Regional Enterprise Architecture Council for Health or REACH with support from the Asian Development Bank, UNICEF, and World Health Organization.

What are the benefits?
  • Improved, patient-centered health care
  • Faster access to critical information
  • Savings for patients and health care providers
  • Reduced administrative workloads
Where have they been successfully used?

Thailand is using the National ID for its citizens as a unique number to access health services, and Myanmar is in the process of setting up a master client index with unique health IDs for HIV and TB patients. A recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) situation analysis of available unique health identifiers in Cambodia, the Lao PDR, and Myanmar found significant fragmentation and a pressing need for harmonizing the multiple identifiers that now exist.

What are the challenges putting them in place?
  • Lack of trained manpower
  • Inadequate information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure
  • Limited deployment of interoperable ICT architecture
  • Lagging legal framework to address privacy concerns
  • Donor focus on programs targeting specific diseases rather than holistic treatment
  • Lack of cross-sector coordination among health entities and other agencies which are responsible for identity management such as civil registration
How do you develop digital health ID systems?
  • Invest in interoperable, durable and reusable ICT infrastructure allowing cross-platform/sector information exchanges
  • Provide relevant training to system users and develop a cadre of ICT experts for government e-governance systems
  • Link existing IDs to the unique health ID
  • Set and implement strict privacy policies
  • Create a single independent agency to administer the system
  • Secure donor funding for comprehensive system rollouts
Where can I get more information on these systems?

An ADB report, On the Road to Universal Health Coverage: Every Person Matters, outlines how unique identifier systems can improve health care provision. The report also gives policymakers options and recommendations on how to introduce them.


M. Stahl, et al. 2016. On the Road to Universal Health Coverage: Every Person MattersADB Briefs. No. 56. April. Manila: Asian Development Bank.

S Roth. 2016. ICT and ID Management in the Health Sector. Presentated at the Cross-Country Learning on ICT for Social Protection in Seoul, Republic of Korea. 19 September.

Susann Roth
Advisor, Office of the Principal Director, Department of Communications and Knowledge Management, Asian Development Bank

Susann Roth launched ADB’s first Futures Thinking and Foresight Program and ADB’s first Technology Innovation Challenge and led the design of ADB’s new Knowledge Management Action Plan. She advises the World Health Organization on foresight, digital health, innovation, and knowledge management.

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