Authors own copyright of their articles appearing in the Online Journal of Public Health Informatics. Readers may copy articles without permission of the copyright owner sas long as the author and OJPHI are acknowledged in the copy and the copy is used for educational, not-for-profit purposes. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Background There is a growing interest concerning the potential of ICT solutions that are customized to consumers.
Though huge budget outlays have been made by the government under ambitious social sector schemes like the National Rural Health Mission NRHMaccessibility of low-cost healthcare continues to elude many. Information and Communications Technology ICT has the potential to impact almost every aspect of the health sector.
In public health, information management and communication processes are pivotal, and are facilitated or limited by the availability of information. In addition, beyond the formal health sector, the ability of impoverished communities to access services and demand a healthcare system that responds to their priorities and needs can be significantly influenced by broader information and communication processes, mediated by informed decision making.
It can help patients become more involved in their own care, which is especially important in managing chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, or heart disease.
In addition, it can help streamline processes and reduce administrative overheads, as it has in other industries, while leading to the creation of new, high-tech markets and jobs.
For instance, e governance has been institutionalised, via ways in which the use of ICT is becoming a norm for various government departments. Constant thinking about, and revision of, ICT policies have ensured that there is enough attention being given both to the benefits and challenges of the use of technology.
Similarly, it is felt by many healthcare professionals that if the same is done for the health sector, it might help in enhancing the adoption of ICT in health care. Building and managing a skilled workforce The human resource HR crisis in health is widely acknowledged. There is an urgent need to professionalize this role and develop a cadre of well-trained HR managers, especially in large public sector health institutions, which often lag behind their private counterparts.
This would include expanding both the number of HR managers and the organisational view of their role, as well as helping upgrade their skills. Human resource development is not only critical with respect to the technical capacity to create, distribute, and use information but also in terms of addressing the new demands on the skills of health professionals.
The benefits of incorporating ICT in healthcare include better access to complete and accurate electronic health records that aggregate information to improve diagnoses, prevent errors, and save precious response times; lead to greater engagement of patients in their own healthcare; improve population-based knowledge in a diverse country like India, and usher in increased administrative efficiency in a country where the public health infrastructure is in a mess.
For example, administrative tasks such as filling out forms and processing billing requests represent a significant fraction of healthcare costs. Health IT could streamline these tasks and significantly decrease costs, as well as reduce personal visits to doctors.
ICT in healthcare can enable remote consultation, diagnosis and treatment through telemedicine. Examples of successes from across India In India, the use of ICT in healthcare has seen varying success across states, due to different levels of engagement with the latest technologies.
This has helped reduce time-consuming paperwork and increased data accuracy by ensuring the broader availability of data in electronic form, even in rural areas with limited broadband connectivity.
These PDAs are being used to transmit data through wireless communication networks, which can be entered into a larger database using the Internet. Through this, citizens anywhere in India on any existing telecom network, can access information with respect to their health profile.
It also provides a health database for a future healthcare strategy.
Then there is the Mother and Child Tracking System under the NRHM, where the focus of the project was to keep track of each pregnant woman from registration to post natal care. In Tamil Nadu, Health Information Systems was successfully launched to strengthen information practices within primary healthcare with the larger aim to improve processes concerning healthcare delivery for the rural community.
A significant percentage of the rural population is poor and resides in remote areas, hence directly depending on the effectiveness of primary healthcare for addressing the health problems of communities.
The main objective was to devise and strengthen Health Information Systems and develop the capacity of the health staff to work on computers, with the ultimate aim that this would lead to better governance of the health sector and improved delivery of healthcare to the community.
This is a free service delivered through state of art emergency call response centres.
As per records, response times, and cases treated, healthcare services in the above-mentioned states have improved, especially in some of the less accessible areas. Challenges and Opportunities Despite these isolated successes, public health IT systems in the country exist in silos.
Most programmes and even state health departments have their own IT solutions for program reporting needs. Since all systems work in silos they do not assist in integrated decision making. Thus, there is a lack of standardisation in architecture, data standards, disease and service codes.
The increasing healthcare needs of an aging population, expensive technologies, a shift toward community-based care, the need for improved access, and quality, as well as the desire of people to be more directly involved in decisions about their health represent significant challenges and opportunities in a country like India.
Health information plays a key role in determining how these challenges are met. Add to these the long list of brick-and-mortar infrastructure gaps, capacity building, training of health professionals who are ICT-illiterate, and the lack of primary healthcare staff, and it is easy to see why the Indian healthcare sector offers an array of opportunities for low-cost innovation and the application of technology for improving health outcomes.
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