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June 16, 2022
There cannot be a better time to talk about the healthcare sector. As virus mutates, we witness the pandemic hitting second wave, India sees exceptional growth in Covid cases. The new challenges call for new ways of mitigation. In case of India, provided our governance system which is ridden by 19th century bureaucratic setup here the changes are as difficult to implement as to endure but we have to work on making our healthcare sector future ready and data would play a major role in realising this goal.
The brighter side of the story is that the ‘Digital India’ is in full swing which is helping the government to smoothen the process of public services, enabling various important services in the field of pension, insurance, taxing, payments, integrated library, ticket booking, certification and what not? Now it feels like without digitised public services, the nation could not run for even a day. Besides this India has launched world’s biggest healthcare scheme the ‘Ayushman Bharat Yojana’ which aims to ensure health insurance to almost half of the India’s population. Also, the government is now entering the completing phase of ‘BharatNet project’ which shall soon help us to realise the dream of last-mile internet connectivity in the country.
This pandemic has shown why public authorities require having access to accurate and timely data. The article tries to put forward an idea that how big data with other advance IT solutions can help India to redefine its healthcare services. It calls to integrate all hospitals to one grid and forming a data repository. This data can be based on 2 broad aspects, one the ‘service consumer’ that are the patients that will include data like the issue/disease(s) public faces, the demographic profile, nutrition levels, medicinal history, allergic conditions etc. and the other aspect is ‘service provider’ which will include data on defined parameters for e.g. availability of beds, blood banks, nursery care etc. This can ensure near-real time tracking of health issues which the Indian population faces starting from the local to district and up to the national level.
Being aware of the health problems that the people of specific area, zone, district faces then we can better concentrate our curative and preventive measures hence making universal health coverage more effective and outcome based. It can enable us save millions by better appropriation of resources across private and public sector, as we witness how medical supply chains get compromised when it comes to an emergency situation like we are witnessing the shortage of oxygen right now under the second wave of coronavirus.
Such an arrangement will also help us in doing targeted research by focusing on specific disease or health issue which shows sign of higher mortality and morbidity in the given area/ type of population. By analysing data we can also find approaches to appropriate treatment of a certain condition, which may help in doing major cost cuttings. As we know the fact that as per some estimates, more than 55 million Indians are pushed into poverty every year due to out-of-pocket healthcare expenses especially towards primary healthcare.
It can also support customisation of government policies which are mostly based on rigid standards, for example, targeted insurances based on susceptibility towards the diseases in an area. To a greater extent this can also help in forwarding the idea of genetic medicine by ensuring development of customised medicines based on the demographic profile. The data of this magnitude will also further strengthen the opportunities of automation and machine learning~ predictive analytics.
It is now a well-known fact in the governance study that the healthcare is not a standalone sector it has many cross linkages with other sectors be it defence, education, trade etc. Also at the micro level the health issues are closely linked with other factors like in case of environmental issues for e.g. the different types of pollution level, clean water availability, living conditions and so on.
Such a system could be proved ever valuable in managing epidemic like conditions. For instance, if a region witnesses large number of cases related to typhoid fever. The government then can concentrate more efforts in improving the quality of water in the zone and ensure safe water supply in the area. Hence, rather just treating growing number of patients the data would help us to treat the real causes behind the spread of the disease in the near real time scenario. After the intervention efforts are been taken correlating the previous data with the new number of cases in the region will help us enabling evidence based governance. Such programme can establish real accountability on the part of government and further help the overall public health policy making.
The data can help us not only in fighting communicable diseases more effectively but also such a system provided with additional data inputs can help us to mitigate with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) more effectively which are mostly lifestyle related and accounts for about 60% deaths in India. Now it is a fact that the majority of these diseases are preventable illnesses. Based on predictive analytics there are many models been designed for identification and prevention of suicides, self-harm cases and other psychic conditions and even predicting risk of getting diabetes.
The revolution in the health sector is not possible without the optimal utilisation of data, as it is rightly called the oil (or some say gold) of the 21st century. However, the problems related to infrastructure development, implementation, and orientation and so on will of course be there but given our experience with the projects like CCTNS (a countrywide crime reporting and tracking system), NATGRID (Intelligence master database), the Cowin and ArogyaSetu platforms, Delhi Governemnt Covid application, Aadhar and experience gained from various other such integrated data management projects can help building a better healthcare system of the future.
A country’s health data is an asset of high strategic importance. Given our past profile the implementation of such programme may not be a big issue but the major concern will be the security of data repository since being highly sensitive data it shall be susceptible to attacks by state and non-state actors therefore it will require to install most advance cybersecurity mechanisms available. Not to mention that such database will widen in future by leaps and bounds as we come across more interlinkages. Studies in abroad say that the healthcare data is the most targeted among others. Therefore there would be a great concern over data protection and privacy norms as we in past has seen how the strategic Aadhaar data were being black marketed using platforms like the dark web therefore privacy norms should be at par best to implement such a programme, unlike other countries we are at very nascent stage of implementing these measures effectively