How Doctors in Rural Area Can Use Technology

India’s healthcare system, much like the healthcare systems across the globe, is witnessing an overhaul. Increased use of technology and greater digitisation efforts are being taken to make our healthcare system more organised, efficient and effective. While this holds true for the urban areas of the country, India still has a very large rural population that still is wanting basic healthcare facilities and hardly has access to good doctors. Given the pace at which urbanisation is increasing, it is almost dismal to know that even today, when India is helmed as one of the fastest growing nations and produces some of the greatest intellectual capital across the globe, the World Health Organization’s ‘2000 World Health Report’ ranks India’s healthcare system at 112 out of the 190 participating countries.

What is abundantly clear is that it is this rural segment that can benefit the most from the Digital India initiative as it aims to connect rural India with the rest of the country through the network of high-speed Internet. The Digital India initiative also aims to increase digital literacy and plans to connect all the villages across the length and breadth of the country through mobile networks by the end of 2018. To put it in numbers, by 2018, if everything goes as per schedule, then 44,000 villages who are currently cut off completely from all technological developments, will also be able to reap the benefits of the technology and digitisation.

Presently, the rural healthcare infrastructure suffers from a dearth of qualified doctors, inadequate medical facilities, insufficient specialised care, non-access to basic medications. With 60%, that is almost 700 million people, facing this grim healthcare situation, it is high time that technology is leveraged efficiently to close this widening healthcare gap. Without getting into the details of the nuances of the public healthcare system and its areas of improvement, let us, simply take a look at how doctors in rural areas can leverage technology and improve patient outcomes.

Telehealth

According to the World Health Organization, the stipulated doctor to patient ratio should be at 1: 1000. In India, this stands at 1:1700. Along with this, there are approximately are 6-6.5 lakh doctors working currently in the country. By 2020, this number needs to increase by 4 lakh more to balance out the doctor –patient disparity. Most of the rural population has to travel an approximate 20 kilometres to access good doctors. Greater adoption of mobile and better internet connectivity in villages can shorten these distances leveraging telemedicine facilities. Multi-specialty hospitals such as Medanta have operational telemedicine services to help healthcare accessible to all irrespective of their geographical location. Individual doctors too can leverage mHealth and telemedicine to reach out to a large rural population. The patients can consult with specialists when the need arises using telemedicine.

EHR

Personalised care, too, should not be a luxury afforded only by the urban population. Doctors in rural areas can also offer personalised care by leveraging EHR systems to increase their efficiency and quality of care, record and store valuable data and manage critical healthcare information. Using technology, doctors can make sure that they can access this data anytime and anywhere. This can help greatly in disease management, sending timely reminders to the patients for health checks or medications and also for conducting health assessment and research. It can also help rural doctors eliminate dubious healthcare practices by educating the rural population about good healthcare practices and give them the ability to understand when they need to seek medical help.

Big Data

Rural India is a goldmine for clinical data. Leveraging big data and data analytics, doctors can look at identifying triggers and causes for poor health. For example, India has one of the highest rates of maternal and neonatal death. By looking at these data patterns, doctors can identify the causes leading to this and then can push for addressing these issues. Lack of qualified doctors, inadequate nutrition of expecting mothers, poor hospitals which are lacking even in basic infrastructure, lack of medications etc. are just some of the points that have been identified as the cause of maternal deaths in India based on the data story. Clearly, digging deeper into the data will provide greater insights and help in identifying risk factors, both social and environmental, and help in improving clinical outcomes.

Mobility

In India, several healthcare organizations have started using mobile phones and IVR services to educate the expectant mothers about the care they need to take and make them aware of the best practices in sanitation. Medical helplines allow patients to ask questions to medical experts and get the answers. With a severe shortage of doctors in rural areas, many times, health care workers attend to patients. These health care workers can access important health related information through national healthcare portals and help the patients.

Doctors in rural India can further leverage technologies such as remote diagnostics, HIS, healthcare informatics and EHR etc, to bridge the gap that divides rural and urban healthcare and help a very large piece of the population access improved, cost-effective, and affordable healthcare. Looking at the rate at which digitisation is increasing in India, we can surely say that with the right use and adoption of technology, the rural healthcare system will definitely take a turn for the better and make a million lives better.

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