Why India needs Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) by Dr Pramod D. Jacob

India with its vast population of over 1.3 billion firstly has a challenge in keeping a track of this vast population's health, much less keep them healthy.  One of the major reasons for this is lack of timely, accurate and reliable healthcare information in today's paper world

State of Health in India

In healthcare India ranks very poorly, even compared to our neighbouring countries. For example in the following health indicators: -

Maternal Mortality Rate (year 2015): defined as number of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth, per 100,000 live births. India has a rate of 174 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, which is worse than Bhutan (148 /  100,000) or Sri Lanka (30 / 100,000 ). China which also has a large population is much better (27 / 100,000) 

Infant Mortality Rate (year 2017): defined as number of children who die less than one year of age per 1000 live births. In India the figure is 39 per 1000 live births, behind Bangladesh ( 32 / 1000 ) and Nepal ( 28 / 1000 ). China is 12 / 1000.

State of healthcare information collection for events like epidemics in India

Before 2010, it would take about six months for the health information to be collected, collated and analysed to prove that a given region in India had an epidemic as the entire process was paper based. By that time the disease (with most being self-limiting) would have struck, had its toll of morbidity and mortality and run its course. With most data collection being paper based this delay costs India loss of lives and productivity with high morbidity, especially in rural areas ( in urban areas- private hospitals and clinics have a process of notifying the public health authorities for notifiable diseases, hence epidemics are identified earlier in urban areas) .

To top it all there is general disbelief in the official published health statistics in India. For example, official data claimed that Malarial deaths in India was only 1,023 in 2010, however a Lancet published study showed the figure to be actually 46,800. Following the Lancet article, the official data agreed that they had their figures off by twenty to thirty times.  Even for a common disease like Cholera, which strikes every monsoon in endemic areas along the Ganges and Brahmaputra, the official estimate for India is 3,631 cases per year, while research has shown this to be about 22,200 per year.   

While the immediate reaction is to blame the public health authorities and Government in India, one must understand the limitations in a paper world to collect health information of 1.3 billion people across 3,200,000 square kilometres. Compare that to collection of information electronically - an electron can travel around the world in about 19 seconds. 

The solution - Healthcare Information Technology (HIT)

The solution is to produce healthcare information in a timely manner with accuracy and reliability. To achieve speed, it is best to do so with Information Technology - hence HIT. To achieve accuracy and reliability, it is best if the patient's data is put into the HIT system by the providers of healthcare such as doctors, nurses, pharmacist etc at the point of care. This patient level data can then be collated and processed to get timely, accurate and reliable population-based healthcare information.

 In addition, HIT systems provides the power of IT to healthcare such as giving alerts for drug-drug interactions, duplication in lab tests and bringing about efficiency in processes and workflows in a healthcare setting, producing reports quickly which will help in planning and deployment of healthcare. It is estimated that healthcare doubles in knowledge every few months and it is difficult for doctors to keep up. With HIT it will be possible to keep up with the latest and deploy best practice evidence-based medicine applicable for India.

The proof of HIT bringing exponential improvement in speed and access to important healthcare information like epidemics even in Indian public health, is best exemplified by the IDSP program. The IDSP program has gone digital from district level upwards to state and then to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Delhi. As a result, the NCDC now publishes data on epidemics and events on a month to month basis and will soon be publishing it on a weekly basis. Will cover the details of this program in a future write up. 

This article has been republished here with the author's permission. The article was first published here.

Dr Pramod D. Jacob (MBBS, MS- Medical Informatics)

After completing his medical degree from CMC Vellore and doing his Master of Science in Medical Informatics from Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in the US, Dr Pramod worked in the EMR division of Epic Systems, USA and was the Clinical Systems Project Manager in Multnomah County, Portland, Oregon. He has been a Healthcare Information Technology consultant to Benton County, Oregon and Santa Cruz County, California. In 2007 he relocated to India and did consultancy work for the state governments of Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh. He was a member of the HIMSS Global EHR Task Force and the lead for India in the task force.

At present he is the Chief Medical Officer of dWise Healthcare IT solutions, involved in the designing and implementation of Clinical Information Systems and the EHR for the company. He is also a consultant for WHO India in the IDSP project and for PHFI for a Non Communicable Diseases Decision Support Application.
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