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Author's profile photo Sarah Harvey

How Technology is Transforming Rural Health in India

/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/273365_l_srgb_s_gl_429186.jpgMore than 70 percent of Indians live in rural areas with few health services.  Hospital infrastructure is limited, and not many trained physicians will relocate from urban to rural areas after years of medical school. This leaves millions of Indian children without access to regular or reliable healthcare. According to a recent study, over three-fifths of Indians who live in rural areas have to travel beyond 5 km to reach a healthcare center.

Fortunately, today’s digital and mobile technology evolution is bringing better health to those in rural areas. A pilot program by the National Rural Health Mission has committed to providing healthcare to over 270 million Indian children. Screening starts when students are enrolled in preschool, ensuring adoption from an early age and a lifetime of data collection.

Four-person medical teams (consisting of a nurse, two doctors, and pharmacist) visit rural schools and screen children for various diseases, deficiencies, and disorders. When necessary, they refer students to hospitals for treatment—and the government pays for the care they receive. All of the student health data is entered into an in-memory system via a mobile tablet, eliminating the need for paper records and allowing for easy follow-up at the hospital.

Based on the aggregated data from millions of children, the local authorities can then determine the need for medical support, prevent epidemics, and improve health services overall.

So far the medical teams have screened more than 60,000 children in Uttarakhand in the program’s five-month pilot. The most common health issue they have found is stomach worms, along with skin-related diseases, weak eyesight, and iron deficiencies.

The National Rural Health Mission is working with SAP’s Health Central solution, and the massive amount of data collected is stored using SAP HANA. The medical records live in the cloud and are accessible to all authorized stakeholders, including the medical team, hospitals, the children, and their families.

But this program does more than store and disseminate data— it also provides analysis capabilities to aid in the understanding of health trends across the population. The digital health records help to increase efficiency in hospitals, and allow medical teams to follow up on their patients.  If adapted, the solution can benefit other countries with similar rural healthcare issues. By using technology to ensure that today’s children are healthy, India has made a strong commitment to the future health of the entire nation.

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