IT: Enhancing Healthcare for a Better Quality of Life

Information Technology has successfully reshaped our lives in ways unimaginable even a decade or two ago. The era of the telegram is now officially over and access to information is not just at our doorsteps but at our finger tips, due to the availability of communication tools like cellular phones, computers and the internet. It is no wonder then that technology has played a key role in healthcare as well and has the potential to completely change the way we deal with a disease at various stages.

The current government rightly focuses on using technology to improve the dismal standards of basic healthcare, not just for the urban population but also for people living in rural settings in remotest corners of ‘Bharat’ which is home to almost 70 percent of our country’s population. Evidence from national and international data clearly shows that the effective use of ICT in healthcare can improve access to better quality services, reduce costs, and empower doctors as well as patients. India has been aggressively experimenting with IT in healthcare, with notable progress in ‘m-health’, ‘tele-medicine’ and ‘e-health’. Many of these services are ready to take the next step and be scaled up to achieve their true potential. The use of IT in healthcare can be the first big step in improving the primary healthcare network in the country.

Simultaneously, it is also important to tap the energy of the private providers of healthcare services in India. Some estimates suggest that by 2012, private sector comprised 80 percent of the healthcare providers in India as against 8 percent at the time of independence. Traditionally, the private and public healthcare sectors in India have viewed each other with mistrust, and to get them to work in tandem is not an easy task. Efforts need to be made towards building confidence and fostering cooperation. This is where the true advantage of IT lies. Technology is available to doctors in both the sectors and can be used for notifying, reporting and following up on medical cases.

Take the issue of Tuberculosis in India, which accounts for more than 25 percent of the new TB cases worldwide. This contagious airborne disease kills almost 2.4 lakh Indians every year and is among the top four causes of death in adults. The Revised National TB Control Program (RNTCP) provides mechanisms to ensure treatment adherence monitoring and support, but these currently reach patients treated by the public sector. Inappropriate, inadequate and unmonitored care could lead to treatment failure, recurrent TB, and most devastatingly the development of drug resistant TB. Hence, proper mechanisms for awareness and monitoring for all TB patients, whether publicly or privately-treated, become all the more important.

In 2012, RNTCP launched e-NIKSHAY, a case-based and web-based reporting and recording system that would act as a centralized avenue for data collection of TB cases; aiding state and local systems to track the progress of patients and keep all the stakeholders in the loop. Over the last 6 months, in the Mehsana, Mumbai and Patna pilot Urban-TB projects, such IT- based systems have helped issue over 10,000 drug vouchers for privately-treated TB patients, and linked those patients to improved treatment monitoring and support. Total TB case notification in these districts, including public and private, has improved significantly demonstrating its success and importance. Increased transparency and monitoring leads to better planning and accountability.

The main reason behind the success of any IT application is its user friendly attribute. It is time to reach out to private practitioners with easy-to-use applications that take minimum time, and yield maximum value to providers and their patients. The most basic yet powerful communication device, the mobile phone, which is used by over 70 percent of Indians, will help us penetrate in the remotest corners of the country. This device can help extensively in increasing the reporting of cases and keeping a close watch on patient who often skip medicine. The Union Government’s recent launch of an initiative to maintain an electronic treatment record of TB patients by encouraging them to send a missed call notification on a number printed behind the strip of the drug is a classic example of how reporting and follow up can be done without involving significant extra cost and effort. This will help the treatment provider to intervene at the right time in case the patient misses a dose.

Training and education in e-healthcare plays the most crucial role in the implementation of these projects. For this purpose the Indian Council of Medical Research has made an open access online bibliography and there are hospitals which have collaborated with universities to teach certificate courses in telemedicine.

India is a leader in innovation, research and IT. It is important that this innovation potential and its resources are harnessed to combat India’s healthcare challenges. If we truly want to improve access to healthcare and sustain it, we need to scale up such innovative new practices by providing adequate resources and encouraging the appropriate skill-development. It’s time for us to move beyond working for IT and start making IT work for us.

From manifesto to budget to delivery

The 2014 election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) outlined how innovation, research and technology can transform India into a superpower by empowering, connecting and binding all stakeholders.

The decisive mandate given to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, in the general election marked a paradigm shift in the Indian political landscape; the people of India reposed their complete faith in Prime Minister Modi and his team.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley and his team must be complimented for taking forward the visionary BJP manifesto and turning it into actionable budget proposals, and also for setting the direction towards building a “Digital India” where innovation, research and technology will play a major role.

Rural broadband and e-highways

A pan-India programme called “Digital India” has been proposed in the 2014 budget to bridge the divide between digital “haves” and “have-nots”. This would ensure broadband connectivity at the village level, improved access to services through information technology (IT)-enabled platforms, greater transparency in government processes, consumption of local content and a host of other services. The railway budget proposed providing Wi-Fi connectivity at train stations, on premium trains and “Office on Wheels”.

An ambitious plan to integrate all government departments through an e-platform will create a business- and investor-friendly ecosystem in India, by making all business- and investment-related clearances and compliances available on a single 24×7 portal, with an integrated payment gateway.

An ecosystem for innovation: from ‘Sell in India’ to ‘Made in India’

India, since the beginning of civilization, has been a leader in science and technology. Lack of a favourable ecosystem for spurring innovation, however, has dented its position post-independence.

Today, India produces only around 2% of IT products that it consumes. This is having an adverse impact on its economy. The need of the hour is to make India an innovation-driven manufacturing hub from a consumption market, by creating an enabling ecosystem for nurturing product start-ups. Entrepreneurship needs to become part of the national culture instead of being the success story of a few.

The new government has recognized the need to create an ecosystem for fundamental research and innovation for India to become a global manufacturing giant with specific programmes for small entrepreneurs, start-up villages and incubation centres. The nationwide district-level incubation and accelerator programme can promote frugal innovation ground-up.

Special focus on software product industry

IT services will remain important for economic growth, but India needs new growth drivers as well. Global Indians educated in Indian universities, in Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management have used foreign soil to make inventions and innovations that have benefited the world.

With the right impetus, it is quite possible to create the next Google, Facebook, WhatsApp out of India. The budget makes a big start by launching a fund for promoting product-led start-ups, a much desired innovation in the thinking of the government.

E-Healthcare and e-Education

Much of real India, Bharat, still lives in villages. Unfortunately, the past government’s average spending on healthcare and education was just 1% and 3%, respectively, of gross domestic product. As a result, basic health and education infrastructure is in bad shape.

The budget does a great job in recognizing the enormous opportunity that lies in improving healthcare and basic education access by using IT. Use of telemedicine, virtual classrooms, open online courses and e-education can be the kick-starter to achieve size and scale to improve the primary healthcare network and basic education standards.

Content localization and digitization

India has more Internet users than English language speakers; as a result, regional language keyboards are vital for deeper Internet penetration. Local language content needs to get digitized. China has already successfully developed and standardized local language keyboards.

Government can help by providing the standard templates for every language that can then be commercialized by using the public-private partnership model.

Now it’s time to deliver.

Technology, needless to say, will play an important role in effective delivery of services, monitoring performance, managing projects and improving governance.

An Integrated Office of Innovation and Technology to achieve the same, and for problem solving, sharing applications and knowledge management will be the key to rapid results, given that most departments work in their own silos. Tracking and managing the projects assume significance because India has been busy spending money in buying technology that it has not used effectively or in some cases not even reached implementation stage. Sharing knowledge and best practices across departments need to be driven by this Office of Technology.

India needs interventions across sectors to become a global knowledge hub by 2022. The Prime Minister is a very technology-savvy leader and the country looks forward to his leadership to drive this next phase of revolution in innovation and technology with a renewed vision and vigour.

This article first appeared in LiveMint

‘India Innovates, India Leads’: Indian Talent + Information Technology = India2022

The success of India in future is intrinsically linked to its ability to keep pace with technology. The world has seen an unprecedented change in technology landscape in the last decade and innovation has become more important than ever before. Technology can help build a digital India- a knowledge-based society and economy- by empowering, connecting and binding all parts of India.


For India to become a global knowledge hub by 2022- the Diamond Jubilee of our Independence- Innovation, Research and Technology will have to play a major role of being the driver, engine of growth and shining light of Brand India. Innovation and Technology will have to be the enabler for empowerment, equity and efficiency by joining people with governments, bringing them closer to knowledge and bridging the gap between demand and supply. Despite India having become the software services capital of the world, the benefits of Technology have not percolated down. The lack of a proactive political vision in not appreciating the full potential of technology in the last decade is primarily responsible for restricting the spread of Information Technology domestically.

Next Phase of Innovation and Technology Revolution in India

India has a long history of Cultural Innovation driven by necessities. It’s time that we take our Innovations globally and solve societal problems. It is in this context that India must embark upon next phase of Innovation and Technology revolution with renewed vigour. It would be unwise to be satisfied with successes in instalments and not tap the vast potential of Indian Talent. The success and Brand established by the Indian Software Services Industry needs to be leveraged with next wave of “Made In India” Technology, Products and Innovations.

That the BJP has seized upon this opportunity and responded to the aspirations of the country is evident in its Manifesto 2014 that has laid unprecedented emphasis on Innovation and Technology and its cross sector potential.

E-Governance

E-Governance is easy, efficient and empowered Governance and has to become the backbone of Good Governance paradigm. A Digital India -where every household and every individual is digitally empowered – is key to the concept of new age, efficient & incorruptible governance.

This can be made possible by increasing the internet penetration and usage of broadband across the country. Deployment of broadband in every village would be a thrust area. Every district of the vastly diverse India having its own specialities must be digitally integrated by 2022.

Follow the Fiber Policy is another path-breaking proposal that can refurbish the digital outlook of the country. Smart Cities will be developed around Digital Highways. The example of the ‘E-Gram, Vishwa Gram’ scheme in Gujarat, that ensured significant empowerment of the rural population by bridging the Digital Divide between the rural and urban areas by providing e-services to all its villages, is worth emulating across the country. The scheme helped control corruption significantly since all transactions between government and citizens are computerised.

Innovation

Spurring innovation and research in India is essential in order to reduce dependence on foreign technology. Innovation is an evolving process and there cannot be a stationary blueprint for it. However, the basic pre-requisite for driving innovation is to have 1.2 billion Indians digitally connected through our own technologies and networks.

The BJP Manifesto talks about such path breaking innovations in governance as promotion of e-Bhasha (National Mission for the promotion of IT in Indian Languages), Content digitization of all archives and museums, financial inclusion and participative governance.

The idea of participative governance using social media as an enabler merits a special mention. Today, Social media has the potential to transform all interactions in the public mindscape. They are powerful catalysts that are changing the ways people use technology to interact with the world around them. India must include these interfaces in its governance models and take full advantage of it. Youth, the biggest driver and user of social media, ought to be involved in policy formulation & legislation.

In a country where nearly 70% of the population lives in villages, a significant segment of about 6,50,000 villages do not have a single bank branch, access to quality healthcare, and higher education, BJP has done well to recognise these handicaps and addressed them in its manifesto with the ideas such as National Rural Internet and Technology Mission for use in TeleMedicine, Mobile Healthcare, Massive Open Online Courses and setting up a National e-Library.

As a matter of fact; policy, institutions and market factors will determine the fate of India in coming years. The existing market factors are quite favourable but it now needs a set of ‘good policies’ & ‘good institutions’ under a visionary leadership for building an India of our dreams.

There is an inescapable clamour by the young and capable nation for a proactive and innovative policy framework that goes beyond being stuck in a reactionary mode. The nation is looking up to the new political dispensation that is likely to assume office after the general elections for providing such a visionary roadmap.