The ongoing march of technology, at a scorching pace, transforming our everyday personal – working and social lives. This is palpable. In tandem, it is also making traditional processes of doing successful business less and less productive, over a period of time. The same is more than visible in the healthcare space too. One such field – although not so widely discussed just yet, is maintaining Electronic Health Record (EHR). This is so important for both patients and healthcare providers to ensure significantly better treatment outcomes at a lesser cost, and reducing disease burden of disease too, in that endeavor.
EHR being a systematic, ongoing process of maintaining health records of every individual, help provide prompt, effective and safe health care for all. It helps immensely whenever the person visits a doctor either in private clinics or in any health center for treatment of any disease condition, or even for preventive measures.
Health profession bodies in various countries have articulated what should get included in the health record of individuals. Let me draw an example from one of the BRICS nations. The Health Profession Council of South Africa (HPCSA) defines health records as “any relevant record made by a health care practitioner at the time of, or subsequent to, a consultation and/or examination or the application of health management”. Since, over any person’s lifetime a massive health data gets generated, the current trend is to capture and store such medical data electronically and is, therefore, called ‘Electronic Health Record’ or EHR.
Laudably, India also formally notified its detail intent to make EHR system work in the country. In this article, I shall deliberate on what is the current status of EHR in India, and the key barriers that need to be overcome to make the process gain momentum, in the days ahead.
What EHR can do:
Before zeroing on to India specific initiative on EHR, let me recapitulate what it entails, quoting from a credible global source. According to Health IT- the official website of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, being real-time- patient-centered records, EHRs make health information available instantly, “whenever and wherever it is needed”. As this process brings together in one place everything about a patient’s health, EHRs can:
- Contain information about a patient’s medical history, diagnoses, medications, immunization dates, allergies, radiology images, and lab and test results
- Offer access to evidence-based tools that providers can use in making decisions about a patient’s care
- Automate and streamline provider’s workflow
- Increase organization and accuracy of patient information
- Support key market changes in payer requirements and consumer expectations
Let me reiterate at this point, a person’ EHR can bring together all health information from all the doctors visited at private clinics, hospital, health centers, school and workplace clinics, pharmacies and diagnostic facilities. In many countries, EHRs can be created, managed, and consulted by authorized providers and staff across more than one health care organization. This process has been followed, though in a very limited way, in India, as well.
EHR initiative in India:
In sync with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative, India reconfirmed its EHR initiative, just as ‘Aadhar’. By a notification, it explained how a cloud-based hospital application system will receive real-time health data of all individuals generated during any clinical encounter or events. Interestingly, EHR standards were first notified by the Indian government in 2013.
Be that as it may, with a fresh vow to popularize EHR in the country, especially among the health care providers, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfares revised the 2013 EHR standards and notified the same on December 30, 2016. A paper titled ‘EHR Adoption in India: Potential and the Challenges’, published in the Indian Journal of Science and Technology in September 2016, presents some interesting findings. Some of these are as follows:
- Adoption of EHR has been significantly less in India as compared to other developed nations. This is despite the government’s enhancing the budget to US$ 19.2 billion for HIT for its greater acceptance and influence returns.
- The reason may be attributed to the fact that EHR is not yet mandatory in India. (In my personal view, this is quite unlike what was Aadhar, for a plethora of government and private services, till the Supreme Court verdict came.)
- In many countries implementation of EHR in the health care system is working very well, benefiting both healthcare providers and the patients, immensely.
The key barriers:
The above paper identified the following as the key barriers to EHR implementation in India:
- Legacy System: Most of the patient records are paper based documents. It’s challenging to convert the paper-based records to an electronic format.
- Cost: High cost of implementation.
- Policy: Absence of coordinated policy of Government. Lack of clarity in the existing policies of HIT.
- Funding: Current actual funding of the government for HIT is grossly inadequate, besides lack of well-trained medical informatics professionals.
- Standards: Most systems don’t adhere to standards, besides usage of multiple local languages by patients and staff.
- Computer Literacy: Low Computer literacy among government staff and private hospital community, and lack of adequate system training on proper usage of the HER.
- Coordination and Infrastructure: Lack of coordination and supporting infrastructure (including the hardware and software) among both public and private sector hospitals.
- Privacy Concerns: Privacy concern on the confidentiality of patient health record needs to be properly addressed.
That’s a 2016 report, what’s happening in 2018?
One may justifiably comment and ask – the above details are of 2016, what is happening today – in 2018?
Even after 2 years since then, EHR still remains at a nascent stage in India, with the keep barriers refusing to get dislodged. The July 16, 2018 media headline – ‘Adoption of e-medical records facing infra hurdles’ clarifies it. It says: “The government is facing serious challenges in its efforts to adopt an electronic health record (EHR) system.” This news report quotes the latest report prepared by the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY), titled ‘Adoption of Electronic Health Records: A Roadmap for India’.
This paper highlights that the government is still facing serious challenges in adopting (EHR) system for every Indian’s medical record that can be accessed by doctors and hospitals – transforming the speed, quality and cost of healthcare in India. Intriguingly, the challenges, continue to range from infrastructure creation, policy and regulations, standards and interoperability to research and development.
The report also emphasized: “With more than 75 percent of outpatients and more than 60 percent of inpatients in India being treated in private health care facilities, it is necessary for the government to bring these establishments on-board for using EHR. In view of the size of the country, there is a need to take a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) approach to make good quality software available to hospitals and individual practitioners.”
EHR in the United Staes and other countries:
According to the ASHP National Survey of Pharmacy Practice in Hospital Settings: Prescribing and Transcribing – 2016, ninety-nine percent of hospitals across the United States now use EHR systems, compared to about 31 percent in 2003. Computerized prescriber-order-entry (CPOE) systems with clinical decision support are used by 96 percent of hospitals.
As indicated in the above September 2016 article of the published in the Indian Journal of Science and Technology the EHR implementation rate in China is 96 percent, Brazil – 92 percent, France – 85 percent, and even in Russia the same is at 93 percent.
EHR, in various form is working in many other countries of the world. Let me cite an example from nearer home. As captured in the Accenture paper titled “Singapore’s Journey to Build a National Electronic Health Record System,” Singapore government has articulated the essence of EHR with its vision that is easy to understand and remember by all – “One Singaporean, One Health Record.” To improve health care quality for all residents, increase patient safety, lower health care costs and develop more effective health policies, Singapore’s MOH created this vision that enables patient health records to be shared across the nation’s healthcare ecosystem.
Borrowing the concept of Singapore, I reckon, EHR should also mean to all Indians: “One Indian, One Health Record.” I fully agree that this process isn’t easy. Many barriers require to be overcome in pursuit of this pathway – successfully. No country found this process easy, neither it is expected in India.
That said, the key question is, can India do it successfully in a relatively short period of time? My answer undoubtedly will be an emphatic yes. This is because India has the world-class IT service providers, such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro, to name a few. It means, India has the capability. Does India have the financial resources, as well? Going by the incumbent government notification on the implementation of the revised EHR standards in India, together with what it says about the country’s economic robustness – I would again say – yes, the country possibly has the financial resources too.
It seems very much possible, also considering what the last two successive governments could conceptualize, structure and implement – a massive project of similar nature and magnitude for all Indians – ‘Aadhar’. When ‘Aadhar’ could so quickly be linked with all services – provided virtually by all public and private organizations, why can’t EHR be linked with all health records of every Indian, backed by appropriate infrastructure, human resources, laws and policies?
If a new law is required for addressing privacy and ownership concerns on health data generated for all, so be it! Doesn’t this initiative need to be visible to all – just as ‘Aadhar’ project, with a priority tag attached to it?
Thus, from the perspective of ‘One Indian, One Health Record’, government notification on EHR standards in 2013, and then revising and notifying the same in 2016, appears to be no more than a tentative intent. It has been happening to several important public health care initiatives for long, and continues to happen even today.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.