Pioneer in spreading Health Informatics Awareness

Currently the Project Director of the Centre for Health Informatics of the National Health Portal at the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi, Prof Suptendra Nath Sarbadhikari , in an interaction with Ekta Srivastava, ENN, elaborates more on the health informatics awareness and role of ICT in healthcare


Give a glimpse of your Journey, from a medical graduate to the project director of CHI of National Health Portal?
I did my MBBS from Calcutta University in 1989 and then went for PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University. I have been the founder and director of Supten Institute and CAL2CAL Institute. Then I joined department of Health Informatics at Bangladesh Institute of Health Sciences, Dhaka, Bangladesh as founding professor and HoD. I also served as the faculty positions with the IIT (Kharagpur), the Manipal, Amrita and PSG groups, and post-doctoral positions in the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata and had been the fellow and faculty of the PSG-FAIMER South Asia Regional Institute .
I am also the member of the Expert Committee on Standards for Electronic Medical Records, working groups on Indian Health Information Network Development (i-HIND) and Health Literacy and Portal, of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.
I joined, on contract, National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India on January 23rd, 2013 as the Project Director of the Centre for Health Informatics (CHI) of the National Health Portal (NHP).
I am hoping to establish health informatics as a fully fledged academic discipline in India. Clinical Informatics has now become a Board Certified medical subspecialty in the USA. My goal is to see India come out with a proper National e-Health strategy sooner rather than later, so that an appropriate authority can be in place for overseeing smooth e-Health implementation throughout the country.

Please tell us something about National Health Portal?
Since November 15, 2013 the NHP has gone live for beta testing. The National Health Portal is funded by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and is being developed by the Center of Health Informatics, National Institute of Health & Family Welfare to promote health literacy. In a country as vast and diverse as India, the aim of the portal is to achieve the herculean task of being a single point of access to public health informatics including conceptualisation, design, development, deployment, refinement, maintenance and uation of information systems relevant to public health.
The dissemination of this information in consumable formats is arguably the most challenging aspect and can significantly contribute to decreasing the burden of disease in the country. Access to health information is one of the foremost rights of humankind. Inadequate or poor health information can increase the risk of hospitalisation or even disease burden. Medical information that is not tailored for consumers can be confusing and deciphering this can be difficult. Therefore, availability of reliable, high quality health information is important for the promotion of health among the population.
Keeping in mind the magnitude of the project and the multiple stakeholder needs, the portal was conceptualised with the intent of leveraging cloud computing right from the start. Data sovereignty, a high uptime SLA guarantee, and the need for elasticity and self-service management were all critical in choosing the combination of BSNL IDC and Dimension Data as the cloud services provider.

How do you think Information & Communications Technologies (ICT) as a tool to make information rich nation in healthcare and medical education?
The state of health care delivery in India is well summarised by the World Bank (2005) that had reported a detailed survey of the knowledge of medical practitioners for treating five common conditions in Delhi found that the average doctor in a public primary health center has around a 50- 50 chance of recommending a harmful treatment.
If that is the condition of the doctors, what could be the condition of the patients? Obviously, we need to increase the awareness among all that information is available, and, if not, it should be actively sought. While getting authentic health information is not always easy, now it is possible to use ICT, especially mobile technology to access appropriate information.
Whereas ICT provides a platform, generating useful and correct health information remains a big challenge. While there are some limitations in Government implemented projects, as all our fingers are not of the same size, work culture too varies from place to place “ whether government or private. We need to look at the positives and enhance those to make things work in good time.
The efforts to introduce ICT in medical education will pay in long run, if we harness its potentials to fit to our needs. Of course, there is a definite need to continue research to find out the usefulness of any system designed (including cost effectiveness and cost benefit). While Id be personally very happy to go on elaborating on this particular question, let me be very brief. Web 2.0 tools like wikis, blogs, podcasts and webinars are now becoming regular modes of instruction. Further, the explosion of online social networks activities is giving us the opportunity to reach the students and patients (User-driven healthcare) at the place where they may be spending a considerable amount of their wakeful time. Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are now becoming part of mainstream learning activities.

Success Mantra
Id like to quote Swami Vivekananda: Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life “ think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

What are the core areas in healthcare that need proper address?
Human resources for health (HRH) problems are going to increase and inter-professional collaboration and task sharing would be inevitable. WHO has established a target minimum ratio of 23 health professionals (typically made up of a combination of doctors, nurses and midwives) per 10,000 inhabitants as necessary for achievements of the health MDGs. Digital tools can help in optimizing resources. Tele-health and mobile health initiatives are also moving in that direction.
Virtual storage (of health information) presents with the advantages of easy access, safety of backups and no worry about storage space. While the issues of privacy, confidentiality and security are genuine, technology is advancing day by day to take care of those. Nevertheless, an effective National e-Health Strategy will be necessary.

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