Monday, Oct 03, 2022

Tech-enabled Healthcare Solutions A Necessity during Public Health Emergencies

We need to look at avenues where technology can ensure healthcare for all – especially those in remote and hard to reach geographies.

A medic collects swab sample of a pregnant woman for COVID-19 test, at a kiosk set up outside Chitaguppi hospital, during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, in Hubli. PTI Photo

The current Covid-19 pandemic has governments across the globe looking for quick and effective means to combat the situation. Countries are grappling to contain the outbreak as it is rapidly spreading, emerging as a public health emergency with limited clinical research thus far, and conventional methods are proving to be insufficient.

Currently, Covid-19 is at centre stage and combating it is all that seems of concern, but we also need to look beyond this. We need to take care of the prevalent morbid conditions that dominate the burden of disease in the country. India’s health system faces a dual challenge owing to the burden of disease due to communicable, Maternal, Neonatal and Nutritional Diseases (CMNNDs). The unprecedented Covid-19 has overwhelmed the health system, pushing essential programs pertinent to CMNNDs and NCDs on the backburner. Activities pertaining to maternal and child health such as antenatal care, family planning, postnatal care and immunization have been side-lined. The momentum in improvement of key indicators has halted and will in turn impact the progress of the key targets of IMR and MMR as envisaged in the National Health Policy 2017. This would be the case for other diseases as well.

To meet this challenge, there is a need to revisit and examine existing processes and systems in the healthcare sector, particularly at the primary health care level.

It is important to look at ways to ensure that the needs of people with prevailing medical conditions are taken care of, on reducing the burden of the already overloaded healthcare system and devising strategies towards prevention. It cannot be a case of choosing one over the other, curing and prevention need to be a simultaneous process. But one might ask, and quite legitimately, where is the manpower, and the systems to do both?

The answer lies in adopting technology and digitalization of processes. Tele-consultation is being widely used and is a boon in the current situation. However, we need to look at other avenues where technology can ensure healthcare for all – especially those in remote and hard to reach geographies.

Now that the National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB) is already in place, it is the responsibility of health institutions to implement this in their spaces. WISH, as part of its intervention with the State Governments of Rajasthan, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, and Delhi, is already taking this forward and has digitized its primary health clinics as per the National Digital Health Blueprint (NDHB) guidelines.

So, what does this add up to?

First, ‘speed’ as more patients can be handled as the registration, consultation and even the dispensing of medicines is in the digital sphere. Second, the data is stored and can be retrieved at the click of a button. For instance, in one of our centres a doctor was found Covid-19 positive so he couldn’t continue attending the patients. However, as all the records of his patients were digitized, the other available doctors could easily access the patient treatment history and diagnostic reports. For diagnostics – provision of improved and digitalized x-ray and other diagnostic point of care devices ensure greater accuracy and quicker results. Third is the epidemiological opportunity to analyse the data and identify trends.

Tech-enabled healthcare solutions are not a luxury but a necessity. When a woman in a remote village, many kilometres away from the nearest healthcare facility, is visited by a frontline worker and undergoes a tele-consultation session with a doctor, and her symptoms are alleviated, then this begins to make sense. When healthcare reaches the last mile, then truly technology shows a human face.

(The writer is CEO of Wadhwani Initiative for Sustainable Healthcare –-WISH. Views expressed are personal.)