Healthcare IT Bridging Gaps to Enhance Quality

Greater integration of IT in healthcare has benefitted the country by lowering the treatment costs, increasing efficiency, reducing human error and improving patient care and satisfaction. With India moving towards its goal of Health for All, IT is set to play much greater role in the times to come, writes Vivek Ratnakar of Elets News Network (ENN).

Indian healthcare industry competes with the best in the world in terms of technology, infrastructure, specialist doctors and nurses. The country has the finest and one of the largest pools of doctors and paramedics in South Asia, with many of them being of global repute. However, due to the sheer size of the country, technology holds the key to delivering quality healthcare to the people – 70 per cent of whom live in rural areas.

Deep Impact of ICT in Healthcare

Healthcare IT is leveraging Indias large reservoir of knowledge and expertise in traditional medicines and biotechnology to achieve healthcare goals.

The 21st century has brought advanced technology and research. Our treatments are now more accurate, drugs more effective, and hospitals and labs are far more efficient. Large scale integration of IT and communication facilities has made it possible to consult with experts from every corner of the world. For example, a team of specialised doctors can overlook and guide a critical operation remotely by using video conferencing and nano-tech cameras, says Dr Sushil Shah, Founder and Chairman at Metropolis Healthcare Ltd.

On a smaller scale, digitalisation of patient records has made it easier for doctors to access reports, make notes, and discuss outcomes instantaneously. The process has reduced risks of miscommunication between doctor, patient and care staff while improving treatment planning. This automated system is especially beneficial for patients working with a multi-disciplinary team of experts.

Telemedicine facilities, online therapy, open online forums and many such technologies are changing the way the healthcare industry used to function and is making it more easier for consumers to gain access to information and make informed decisions. The overall consensus is that IT has drastically improved the quality of healthcare in India and will continue to do so in the years to come, adds Dr Shah.

Big Opportunities for Healthcare IT

According to Dr Suchita Markan, Assistant General Manager at Biotech Consortium India Limited (BCIL), the rural India accounts for 70 per cent of the population but 80 per cent of the health infrastructure is in the private sector.

The medical insurance coverage is a mere 5 per cent, limited almost entirely to the urban, educated, middle classes in Indias larger cities. This gap makes out a strong case and represents a huge opportunity to deliver healthcare services from urban to rural areas through use of IT tools such as telemedicine as India has very good mobile coverage in the rural areas, says Dr Markan.

As per WHO report, India is placed in the category of critical shortage of health service providers with 0.7 doctors and 1.5 nurses per 1,000 people.

The WHO average mandate is 2.5 doctors per 1,000 people. According to the Planning Commission (now NITI Aayog) we are short of 1.54 million doctors and 2.4 million nurses to match the global patient to doctor ratio. This offers itself as an opportunity for integration of IT with the healthcare ecosystems wherein limited skilled manpower in Indian healthcare sector must be IT enabled to increase their efficiency for effective healthcare delivery to patients in remote locations, observes Dr Markan.

IT Advantage in Healthcare

IT is gaining momentum in penetrating the healthcare service delivery in India, driven by the need to reduce costs, enhanced efficiency and increased health awareness among citizens.

Health information technology involves the designing, development, use and maintenance of information systems, specifically for the healthcare industry. With respect to the diagnostics industry, Health IT is central to LIMS “ Laboratory Information Management System “ which ensures standardisation of reports across India and other global markets. This digital data also helps us understand healthcare patterns across different sectors and create trend based reports for consumers, says Dr Shah.

According to Dr Markan, adoption of IT into the healthcare systems can have several advantages including improvement in quality of service by turning hospitals more efficient in terms of reach and delivery of service. Integrated electronic medical records facilitate quality research as data is made available in structured manner which helps in studying trends and identifying disease outbreaks etc. Also, by means of creation of electronic patient record, each patients blood group, reports of investigations etc, can be documented and made available easily without manual errors, she says.

Key Challenges

Challenges in integrating IT into the healthcare system in India, which include lack of standardisation, lack of in house IT expertise, reluctance of medical, nursing and other staff to change, and the fear of technology failing are among the key hurdles in adoption of IT in health.

Although, majority of the private sector has adopted technology and IT as an integral part of their operations for efficient service delivery and there are also few success stories to cherish. However, there is a strong need to upscale IT adoption in healthcare system in India in both public and private sector alike and full integration of systems to unleash the immense potential that this sector offers.

The Healthcare IT sector is facing its own set of challenges including issues related to initial investments, lack of in-house IT expertise, manpower training requirements, reluctance by the staff to change management systems and lack of confidence in adoption of newer technologies etc, says Dr Markan.

What Next?

With an exponential increase in the world of telecommunication technology and development of 4G, it is imperative that broadband wireless technology be exploited and used to develop mHealth. While mBanking, mCommerce, mEntertainment is becoming a reality, we need to develop mHealth, according to Dr Shah of Metropolis Healthcare.

The number of Hospital on Wheels are very few and has potential to grow with increased facilities for real time two way audio video contact with main headquarter. Virtual skills laboratories are where large number of medical and surgical procedures is simulated on virtual patients are now a reality in advanced countries. We need to have such learning and development centres. To achieve all this, IT should be a part of the medical curriculum. Similarly, applications of IT in healthcare should be taught to all IT students, he adds.

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