Role Of IT In Indian Healthcare

Date:   Saturday , January 01, 2000

The rapid growth of technology in the era of the Digital Revolution has brought in the convergence of computers, telecom, television and electronics. IT has made gradual and effective inroads into various walks of our lives. These technological breakthroughs have made communication (the spread of information) and data handling easier. The speed of adoption of computers and IT is unmatched in comparison to any other technology in the past. Due to the vast area of usability and a wide ranging role in communication, every effort is being made to bring the horizon of IT closer to the common man.

At higher levels in Indian central and state governments, as well as in private organizations and institutions, the awareness and acceptability of these technologies has increased considerably from earlier years. The government is realizing IT industry’s potential. Indian healthcare should leverage the benefits of technological advances at the earliest opportunity; the time has come for us to embrace this IT-driven change in the health sector and expand the coverage of medical and health services to meet the ever-increasing demand for quality healthcare services for the Indian masses.

The approach should now focus on preventive care, patient empowerment through aggressive self-help education programs and enhanced access to healthcare facilities, which can be brought about through the extensive use of Internet and targeting of core technologies like tele-medicine. The dawn of the third millennium brings with it the most appropriate time to concentrate on making use of computers and IT in the field of Health.

IT Application in Health

Every patient’s medical record — whether it’s at a remote sub-center or any medical college — should be computerized, and all such databases should be connected to each other. This network should in turn be connected to the administration at various levels. Arranging the system thus will lead to easy availability, effective and more meaningful retrieval and sharing of records for the purpose of referral, consultation, expert opinion, medical education, research, national health database, continued medical education, national health policy, health disaster management and forecast of epidemics. This need of computerized medical records is but a simple logical extension of paper-based records to another much effective system — that is, the combination of computers and information technology. This logical, effective evolutionary change will save time, save money and improve the quality of healthcare. The data so generated can be used not only for national health but also along with other international databases it can be effectively used for national and global growth and prosperity.

The Need of the Hour: Medical Informatics

Medical informatics is a developing body of knowledge and a set of techniques concerning the organization and management of information in support of medical research, education and patient care. Medical informatics combines medical science with several technologies and disciplines in the information and computer sciences and provides methodologies by which these fields can contribute to better use of medical knowledge bases and, ultimately, to better medical care.

Medical informatics has emerged as a distinct discipline within the medical sciences, and various courses are available for study in the western countries. Medical informatics specialists are very important for healthcare. These professionals are the experts who secure, analyze, integrate, mine and manage information that steers the national health delivery systems and healthcare industry. By providing quality information, these specialists also directly contribute to quality patient care. Numerous national and international bodies on medical informatics are lending their helping hands to healthcare delivery.

Since health is a service that depends on data and information for its effective practice and delivery, courses on medical informatics should be started in medical colleges and universities in India. To start with, healthcare professionals can be sent from each medical college for the courses. Such trained personnel can be of immense help to healthcare as described above. This will lead to the spread of knowledge of informatics in healthcare delivery.

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences has acquired expertise in dealing with the application of IT in healthcare. The institution is already working on telemedicine and multimedia application in health, which includes patient care, biomedical education, research, administration and public health.

A solid start would create awareness of computers and IT across the country in the field of health. At the outset, a platform should be created for the users (the health professionals), administrators, policy makers, healthcare industry and IT vendors to meet, discuss and strive to understand each other’s needs, to share experiences, ideas and expertise.

The proposed platform would include representatives of medical colleges and hospitals, central institutions and organizations in various fields of health research and administration, directorates, secretariats, health ministries (both at central and state levels), public health and national health programs, plus other members of the healthcare industry and IT industry.

In pursuance of these ideas, a national level conference, “IT in Health in the third millennium” under the aegis of “Medical Informatics India” is being organized. It will review the existing status of IT in Indian Health and discuss its future with an aim is to create awareness of computers and IT across the country in the field of health.

With the expected emergence of India as an IT superpower as envisioned in the Action Plans of the IT Task Force, the health sector must contribute to this endeavor both to improve its own status using IT and to contribute to this national goal.

Dr. R.S. Tyagi, Ph.D., is Dy. Director at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India and Heads the Department of Computer Facility of the Institute. Contact