Targeting the ‘Information Inefficiency’ in Rural Healthcare Delivery

Close your eyes and imagine your last hospital visit. If your medical experiences have been anything like mine, your doctor’s office is equipped with instruments, tools, and a computer. Your medical file is stored in a digital database for easy retrieval and review, allowing your doctor to provide continuous and consistent care.

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Sadly though, this is far from the reality in thousands of India’s “digitally dark” villages, even despite the availability of technology. India’s  IT revolution is only reaching some and this poses a significant challenge for rural health workers.  More than products and delivery, the lack of effective IT infrastructure, and the disjointed flow of information, proves to be one of the greatest impediments to effective healthcare delivery in rural India.

Information Technology, the Frugal Innovator’s Biggest Asset

Telemedicine, which I explored briefly in our last post, is making great strides towards bridging the digital divide, but it’s just the tip of the technology iceberg. For frugal innovators in India, information technology provides fertile ground for exploration, as the advent of open source software and the pervasive adoption of mobile phones makes information flow more affordable and accessible than ever.

In this post, I peel back the layers of technological innovation further to explore its coded underbelly — the beautifully simple IT innovations that are empowering rural health workers with information. The market for ideas and technologies addressing ‘information’ inefficiencies in healthcare is huge, and among the available solutions, ease of use and ‘plug-and-play’ systems are proving most effective.

The two organizations I highlight here, Neurosynaptic Communications Pvt. Ltd. and Dimagi, both offer a range of technologically enabled solutions that help doctors and nurses manage the care of patients across rural India. These thoughtfully designed plug-and-play solutions are easy to use and provide access to valuable information that can positively impact the health of the two thirds of India’s population living in villages.

Real-time Communication is Key to Quality Healthcare

Neurosynaptic Communications Pvt. Ltd. (NSCPL) offers a range of ICT solutions that “work with data acquisition, communication, and high-end systems integration.” The ReMeDi Medical Data Acquisition Unit (MDAU), their premier healthcare diagnostic toolkit, provides a turnkey solution for telemedicine consultations.  The ReMeDi kit includes an ECG machine, blood pressure cuff, electronic stethoscope, thermometer, and Pulse Oximeter (to measure the blood Oxygen saturation), which are technically enabled to send results directly to a doctor at an urban hospital via NSCPL software.

With four multimedia enabled computers (two at the rural health center and two the urban hospital) and 2 static IP addresses with Internet connectivity, the ReMeDi unit becomes a comprehensive, interactive diagnostic system, allowing doctors to directly engage with and diagnose patients. The system can even be integrated with existing applications and devices for a customized solution.  NSCPL offers two IT + hardware solutions: a Professional ReMeDi unit for telemedicine consultations as well as an Enterprise ReMeDi edition designed to create an “Enterprise Healthcare Ecosystem” with several telemedicine centres and partners linked to form a rural healthcare network.

While NSCPL designs both hardware as well as the software to integrate it into an IT network, Dimagi has taken a different approach to innovation—piggybacking onto an existing infrastructure, the mobile phone. Dimagi has pioneered several open-source, mobile technologies including mobile health, SMS, care coordination, and data collection.  Through their innovative products, CommCare and CommConnect, Dimagi empowers community health workers with access to information and a platform to store it, share it, track it, and learn from it.

The Rural Health-worker’s Strongest Ally, the Mobile Phone

CommCare, Dimagi’s innovative, data collection tool utilizes free and open-source software and mobile and cloud infrastructure to capture data in an electronic repository and send it over a standard phone network to the concerned doctor or health centre. CommCare increases the efficacy of rural health workers by enabling data-driven management of healthcare projects in even the most remote rural regions.

CommConnect, which integrates with the information collected using CommCare, is an SMS messaging application that allows health workers to set up two-way messaging, send targeted reminders, distribute surveys, and broadcast mass messaging. This tool can be used to remind patients about an upcoming appointment, send medication alerts, or even circulate a public health announcement. Health workers can also use CommConnect to design and distribute surveys and collect vital health information from community members.

By utilizing the information collected through Dimagi’s products, healthcare workers can track the outbreak of infectious diseases, monitor patients’ compliance with medication regimens, and even use survey information to shape health policy.

Access to information is critical to effective healthcare delivery. In “digitally dark” regions of India, where the flow of information is disjointed at best and non-existent at worst, frugal innovators often look to IT and technology infrastructure to provide a solution.  With access to user friendly technology and the right information, rural health workers can become the backbone of last mile delivery of healthcare services for underserved, rural communities across India.

 About the Author: Research & Project Manager at Innovation Alchemy, Hannah Rosenfeld explores the intersection of design and social impact & supports entrepreneurs in thoughtfully crafting products and services to transform under served communities. 

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