Written by Arun Ramamurthy
People in remote and rural areas are often hours away from access to health services, and typically those that can be reached are not of high quality. Very few young doctors and other health professionals want to work in distant geographic locations. The preference for working in urban centers won’t change in the future and might only increase.
This problem calls for innovative solutions to bring health services to populations in hard-to-reach locations. Information Technology (IT) provides some viable options which need to be scaled up and integrated into public health systems to bridge the rural-urban gap.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has recently undertaken a pilot project to deliver primary healthcare services in Bhutan utilizing IT. ADB collaborated with Hewlett Packard and the Government of Bhutan in an e-Health Centre program in a basic health unit facility under the Ministry of Health.
This project brought a virtual medical doctor to the doorsteps of a village hospital, with electronic delivery of primary health care services using a new form of Internet broadband technology, called Whitespace. This works well in mountainous locations.
E-Health centers are rapidly deployable health clinics which use a package of automated medical diagnostics equipment and IT systems, Internet communications links, and a network of medical professionals. Various variants, such as mobile and static deployment, of e-Health Centers are possible.
Integrating various agencies to provide IT-enabled health services to disadvantaged populations using innovative systems and technology, supports both improved access and efficiency of services.
And, as in any similar eco-system, to function efficiently these schemes need to be designed with sustainable operations in mind.