The Healing Touch of IT

DQI Bureau
New Update

Remember Arthur Hailey's path-breaking novel The Final Diagnosis, where we

get a picture of how an automated infrastructure redefined the working of a

hospital in the US-this in the 1960s. Barring a handful, even today, India

does not have hospitals that would match Hailey's picture.


Some sociologists would scoff at talks on technological innovations in

healthcare, a few others would pass it of as an elitist fad in a country where

nearly half the billion plus population has no means of access-even to the

basic healthcare. No doubt, specialty hospitals like Apollo, Fortis, Max or

Escorts, that claim to have redefined contemporary healthcare in India through a

corporatized IT culture, still pander to the rich and famous-a mere minority

of the country's population, while the primary healthcare centers in rural

areas do not have even basic medicines, forget a modern IT infrastructure.

However, perhaps this could be one sector where a top-down development model

can seriously work out to the benefits of the masses. While it might be naive to

think that technologically advanced hospitals that have come up in recent years

would suddenly become affordable to all, the government hospitals can learn

about extensive automation in association with some of these elite healthcare

institutions in the country. And, fortunately, this trend seems to be

increasingly catching up-many state government hospitals in Karnataka, Tamil

Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi are adopting a hub-and-spoke network

model, whereby they can offer remote telemedicine and even go for basic

requirements such as archiving patient records.

The very presence of the so called elitist hospitals will bring about a revolution

Skeptics still argue that most of the elitist hospitals do not care much

about attending to the teeming millions, but at least their very presence in the

country can instigate a healthcare revolution, sooner or later. And perhaps it

would be unfair to tar all of them with a single brush stroke. Significant

humane initiatives, fuelled by IT, have been initiated by some of these elitist

hospitals-Apollo Telemedicine Enterprises (ATEL), the telemedicine division of

the Apollo Hospitals Group, has already set up over 10 telemedicine links

between the Apollo Institutions at Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and distant

locations across the country. It even hands out short term loans to its

telemedicine partners in remote places for the initial financing of the

telemedicine equipment. Fortis' hub-and-spoke hospital network too has catered

to remote treatment of patients, especially in the northern parts of the


While telemedicine undoubtedly has a special significance in a vast country

like India, in reaching out to people in remote places, IT's biggest

contribution to healthcare has been the development of a hospital information

system (HIS)-a sort of ERP for hospitals that takes care of different

functionalities related to patients, doctors, medicines, treatment and

instruments. Since it would be difficult to customize a generic ERP, most of

these HIS solutions, be it Escort's MedTrak or the one from Max, have

generally been developed in-house. Other than HIS, electronic archiving of

medical records is gradually becoming mainstream, as it is not only helping in

early diagnosis but also improving the general efficiencies in hospitals.