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Digital Technology Set To Transform Public Health

It needs engagement of all stakeholders (governance, payer, provider systems and the community for an effective implementation.

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With demographic shift towards life style diseases and rising cost of hospital-based care, focus is shifting to improving social determinants of health, preventive care, and primary care. Recent years have been witnessing tremendous advances in digital technology applications for health, including personal care apps, wearable technologies that monitor health parameters, telemedicine, online healthcare services etc. India has been witnessing rapid penetration and adoption of mobiles and smartphones along with lowering of data costs.   

Health data monitoring and responsive policy making: Conventionally population health data has been monitored through manual registers and periodic population surveys. Many man-hours are spent in collecting thousands of data elements for variety of public health programs. Most of the data is fragmented and lies in silos. Mobile based data collection by frontline health workers is transforming the way data is collected, stored and used with real time dashboards on key parameters that are vital for responsive public health system. 

Public Education: Messaging and social media have become important means of educating people on their personal health. There are apps that can provide personalized counselling based on simple health parameters. Social media has a powerful influence on school age children and can be used to educate these children on healthy habits. 

Screening for non-communicable disease (NCD) risk factors: Mobile-based questionnaires along with point of care low cost diagnostics, administered by front line health workers, are enabling mass screening of population in millions. The applications also provide tools for future risk assessment and identify people who are at high risk to be enrolled in long term preventive programs. 

Early detection of epidemics: Geo-tagged health data is able to provide clues about impending epidemics along with location where they are arising. These will enable public health systems to respond in time to contain these epidemics from spreading. There are upcoming AI-based technologies that are able to guide clinicians in choosing empiric antibiotic treatment based on simple presenting clinical parameters. These tools will go a long way in addressing growing public health problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Integrated Care: As non-communicable diseases have overtaken traditional problems of mother & child health, communicable diseases, and malnutrition across every state in India as per recent published data, people need care that is integrated longitudinally (hospital-based care with community-based care) over life time. Digital health data linked to unique health ID of a person, that is interoperable and portable, has the ability to integrate highly fragmented healthcare delivery system. 

Digital Health for Universal Health Coverage (UHC): India is a signatory to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of UHC by 2030. Universal Health Coverage has twin objectives of access to quality care and financial health protection. Digital technologies have unique applications to improve access (tele-medicine, e-consulting, online services and more), support quality assurance and continuous quality improvement (QA & QI) and enable efficiency in health insurance administration. 

Health Regulation: As healthcare becomes highly complex and fragmented, effective regulation across entire health systems (regulation of healthcare professional education, drugs, disposables, devices, equipment, clinical establishments, diagnostic labs) is feasible only through digital technologies, as the country cannot afford enormous human resource capacity needed to administer regulation. 

Human Resources for Health: There are tremendous shortages of human resources for health across the country, more so in rural areas. Digital technologies, simulation labs, point of care diagnostics etc., are able to overcome some of these challenges through reskilling, upskilling, and task shifting. Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions have the ability to offer alternate solutions with regards to cognitive diagnostic skills of clinicians and management plans.  

We are at an inflection point of digital technology revolution that has the power to transform entire public health system. However, it needs a well-orchestrated effort at national and state levels with a clear Vision and Strategy for transforming millions of lives. It needs engagement of all stakeholders (governance, payer, provider systems and the community for an effective implementation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Krishna Reddy

The author is Country Director, ACCESS Health India

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