Data leverage is the key to driving healthcare in India

COVID-19 has been a big driver of the growth of digital health in India. Initiatives like telemedicine have received a big boost and this has enabled the growth of digital platforms for consultation and growth. Disease surveillance has also seen a big boost, with the tracking of COVID infections, hospitalisation, RTPCR tests, and serological studies during this period. Also, the vaccination program along with the digital certificates have also shown how preventive surveillance can be tracked nationally. The government had earlier earmarked almost 35,000 crores for the programs including surveillance and vaccination. It has spent almost 20,000 crores so far on these activities. Similarly, the investments in the telemedicine platforms have increased significantly and today the telemedicine market stands at almost USD 1.3 billion.

India started the IDSP, Integrated Disease Surveillance Program with funding from the World Bank in 2004. This was a 10-year program to track 33 disease conditions in India. The key drivers for this program were the Cholera outbreak in Delhi in 1988 and the Plague outbreak in Surat in 1994. Now, this program has really scaled over the years and today is run nationwide under the National Center for Disease Control in Delhi. While the program is remarkable in many ways and has helped identify and control many conditions in various parts of the country, including tackling the Nipah Virus outbreak in Kerala some years ago there are certain gaps that are yet to be filled. We have been very successful in managing Polio, and before that, we eradicated Small Pox, and moderately successful in managing conditions like TB, but a lot more needs to be done to manage conditions like Malaria which are cyclical and have been affecting us for years. Even during COVID the IDSP managed to track and stop the spread of Acute Diarrheal Infection in Sangrur in Punjab in September 2021, which shows the program is effective but definitely needs an upgrade. I had also covered this in an article earlier

Here are some key points to consider:

  • The program is not real-time and there is a lag between collecting the information and the actions taken
  • These are mainly due to the manual entry that is done at Primary Health Centres, Labs, District Hospitals and other sources. Forms like P Forms, L Forms Admissions Forms are manually field scanned and then sent to Delhi for analysis
  • Leveraging smartphones the program did create a mobile application for tracking the disease condition, but the implementation has not gone according to plan and leaves a lot to be desired

IET’s disease surveillance project is a very radical and ambitious approach to looking at disease surveillance from the view of unstructured data. The project looks at three disease conditions- Malaria, Dengue, and Chikungunya, and will track all publicly available data on digital media to track their spread and patterns in the growth of the conditions. The timing of the project is perfect as are in summer now, leading to monsoons. These are the times when these three disease conditions spike. Based on our initial analysis, we would identify regions, and cities where the diseases are spiking, and correlate them with the on-ground data to build a model that can be scaled and used across the country for all key disease conditions. This is a first-of-its-kind project and we are collaborating with our partners like PATH and Siemens Healthineers, along with volunteers from IET who collectively bring together almost 60 years of experience in healthcare.

Read more in this article published in Express Health

Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

Management Thinker, Marketer, Healthcare Professional Communicator and Ideation exponent

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