No Data, No Grid

by Praveen Kurup    Jan 15, 2007

Circa 2008, a troubled farmer walks into a public healthcare center in Beed, a remote district in Maharashtra. After filling up a few e-forms, he is immediately connected to a leading cardiovascular surgeon from a leading speciality hospital in Mumbai through a teleconferencing terminal. The surgeon has access to all previous records that indicate that the farmer has suffered major heart failures in the past 3 years because of a malfunctioning aortic valve.

Using various other readily available data, he also concludes that the patient has other complications. He then sets up a multi-disciplinary team meeting (MDT) with other leading specialists across the country. In a matter of a few days, the farmer is operated upon, and is back on the field in no time.

You might think this is far-fetched, but the Department of Information Technology (DIT) does not. If the eleventh five year plan submitted by the working group on IT is anything to go by, this should be easily attainable by 2008. It suggests that the government should expedite its efforts to set up the National Telemedicine Grid. It is also of the opinion that if adequate resources are allocated, the grid should be ready by 2008, connecting almost 90% of all government healthcare centers.

The futility of such a thought is something that almost every citizen in India will understand, but that does not deter our ‘working groups’ to come up with such baseless plans.

The key to maximizing the utility of the grid is digitized patient records. The grid will not revolutionize healthcare in India unless it is fed with adequate digital patient records (text, images, video). And when it comes to figuring out how much of our public healthcare centers have digitized records, your guess is as good as mine.

In such a scenario, purporting the benefits of the grid is nothing but empty rhetoric. The ministry should meticulously plan and initiate work on the other smaller components first. Start with digitizing records, setting up basic infrastructure, medical equipment like X-ray digitizers, digital ECGs, tele-pathology microscopes with cameras.

Based on the data collected in this process, decide upon the connectivity and other IT requirements in various areas. Then hook up these already IT-enabled centers to the main backbone. This exercise will eventually lead to a successful grid that can be used to meet the ultimate goal.