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Technology and its potential to transform healthcare systems in India

In the Indian health sector, technology can play a transformative role. Technology can bring services closer to the community. Technology can expand the capacity of the health system to provide care. The citizens of India will benefit from an integrated health information system across all states. The intent of this system is to manage all aspects of healthcare planning, delivery, and monitoring, including disease surveillance, patient medical records, planning for human resources, continuing medical education, facility registration, and telemedicine initiatives.

In India, a number of good examples exist where technology has played a key role in improving healthcare access, in driving accountability, in increasing efficiency, and in reducing out of pocket expenditure for the poorest of the poor. Populations that cannot afford high quality healthcare have benefited from innovative programs announced by the government. Some of these programs have led to reduced out of pocket expenditures and to better quality health services in remote parts of the country. The Rajiv Aarogyasri program in Andhra Pradesh has advanced the use of technology on several fronts. Aarogyasri requires all network hospitals to have an internet connection and to invest in computer equipment. The program provides an interest free loan to ensure that all providers are able to procure and to own the hardware. Aarogyasri uses electronic medical records. These electronic records enable managers to review data from all hospitals, on a daily basis, and to track patient referrals between facilities. Besides medical records, the program also transmits angiograms and other diagnostic information over video for medical verification prior to surgeries.

Two organizations, the Health Management Research Institute (HMRI) and the Emergency Management Research Institute (EMRI), have implemented large scale technology based services in several states across India, often in partnership with the government. These services are based on an integrated technology platform that interconnects patients, referral services, the emergency response system, and, in some cases, telemedicine and outreach services by community workers. A survey of eight thousand households in Andhra Pradesh found that seventy six percent of the poorest knew about the helpline. Ninety percent of all surveyed knew what number to call for emergency response services. These are a few of the examples where the government has successfully used technology in partnership with private sector and improved quality of life for the general population across India.

A number of other technology applications are possible in areas such as smart diagnostics, multipurpose tele-consultation kiosks, remote patient monitoring, more efficient procurement, payment technology, disease surveillance, technology driven large scale trainings, to name a few. Data is one of the building blocks for improved quality that can provide valuable insights into the health of a system.

India is at a moment of great potential, with technology poised to transform the healthcare system. To maximize the positive transformative impact of technology in healthcare, this technology must be carefully and consciously embedded into the design of health systems, with end to end integration.

The writer is Siddhartha Bhattacharya, Country Manager (India), ACCESS Health International.

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