The World Health Organization (WHO) released its guidelines on digital health interventions. In the guidelines, recommendations were made on using appropriate digital technology to achieve the aim of Universal Health Coverage.
The recommendations analyse methods used in eHealth. Mobile phones or tablets are being used to collect data on births, deaths, medical supplies and stocks.
Telemedicine, a method of using information and communication technology (ICT) to provide medical services remotely, aides in diagnosis, monitoring and therapy of patients. It also provides remote training to healthcare workers in rural areas.
Digital software can monitor the health status of patients remotely and even use algorithms to help a health worker diagnose and plan treatment for a patient.
When it comes to healthcare delivery, the northeastern states have a unique problem: A significant percentage of the population lives in hilly, mountainous terrain that is not easily accessible.
Poor road infrastructure is one of the main obstacles to healthcare delivery, compounded by road blocks due to landslides that make it difficult for patients to reach the nearest urban areas for healthcare support.
To solve this problem of accessibility, state governments in the Northeast are exploring these new digital technologies.
In Nagaland, through its programme called Nectar, the government has initiated a project to plan the location of health facilities on difficult terrain using satellite technology-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
A telemedicine programme was also launched to offer consultation through video-conferencing with doctors in urban areas and patients in hard-to-reach locations.
Meghalaya has produced a report that uses GIS to map the health infrastructure in the state. A district hospital in Mizoram has also launched a telemedicine facility in partnership with Puducherry-based Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research.
In addition, India’s first-ever ‘Helicopter-based Air Dispensary’ is set to be launched this year in the Northeast. It is aimed to send specialised doctors to remote locations.
In the coming months, a start-up called Zipline is looking to engage with the northeastern state governments to discuss the potential of using drones to deliver medicines, blood components, vaccines and other equipment to remote areas.
The impact factor of Zipline has been tremendous in Rwanda and their services are under discussion in Madhya Pradesh for delivery of medications for tuberculosis and HIV, according to Zipline’s media wing.
If health technology can play a role in the main causes of death and disease in the Northeast, such as intestinal infectious diseases among children, tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDS and malaria among adults and stroke, ischaemic heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the 50-69-year age group, then the delivery will be all the more successful.
In the case of TB, delivering medication is not where healthcare delivery stops. The WHO’s Global TB Programme focuses on patient adherence to drug courses, through the use of ICT. TB programmes are using SMS, video-supported treatment (VOT) and medication even monitoring systems (MEMS) to help patients to complete full course of treatment and to ensure follow up.
MEMS is an automated electronic device that records and informs the health provider whenever it is opened and utilised by the patient. These have been very successful in keeping patients on track with their medical regimes.
In the case of heart disease, counseling and managing patients from afar through telemedicine, a process labelled ‘Telestroke’ in 1999, has been effective in negating the need for a specialised neurologist or physician on ground.
One such technology called mPower heart, is a smartphone-enabled clinical decision support system for hypertension and diabetes that can help in the monitoring of stroke and is being tested in Mizoram under the Swasth Uttar Purv project.
At present, internet connectivity is still a major problem in hilly parts of the Northeast, which may be a hindrance to the adoption of telemedicine or other ICT innovations. Only around 35 per cent of the population in the Northeastern states are connected by the internet.
Given the huge increase in wireless connections over time, there is potential in the realm of health technology, particularly in patient follow-up and telemedicine, and the governments in these areas should make investments to foster the development of this sector. – DNA India