Technology in medical field vital, even as actual cure lies elsewhere

The Guardian
Published at 08:41 AM Mar 29 2024
Medtronic Acquires digital surgery to bolster its AI and surgical robotics.
Photo: Analytics Insight
Medtronic Acquires digital surgery to bolster its AI and surgical robotics.

IN the rapidly changing field of medical care delivery in the country, not everyone can easily follow what has been done in most hospitals or at a certain level of hospital care. Still, some achievements stand out.

Those in the profession are demanding more improvements, and hence the wish by health experts and stakeholders to see the government embracing digital space in scaling up electronic medical records (EMR).

Sections of opinion, especially in the field, will take this up with excitement as it enables records to be accessed almost anywhere – even if it is not just a matter of fixing a number of computers in health centres and it is done.

Experts deliberating on the ‘unveiling the power of digital health’ at a just-held international primary healthcare conference had no doubt that gains from systematic improvement bring efficiency in the country’s healthcare delivery and ease implementation of universal health coverage (UHC).

Neither of the two propositions is entirely assured in chances of being put on the ground – that is, universal digital record keeping on the one hand and universal insurance cover on the other.

Some observers feel that there is a semblance of the ‘Big Results Now’ of the years leading to 2015, plenty of which has animated leading administrators since.

But one problem is whether this technological uplift is in tandem with the easing of access to treatment for the majority, often just making do with the swallowing of cheap pain killers simply because they can’t afford proper prescription at primary level.

That isn’t to say that technology isn’t relevant to primary health care but, on the contrary, it has implications on easing access to medicine for the poor – and indeed, where the policy thrust ought to be directed.

The whole idea of universal insurance cover is pegged with a question-begging assumption that something like 0.4m/- contribution per annum can guarantee treatment for a family of four or six.

Officials have pointed out that preventing diseases at the community level will call for vast efforts, but realistic insurance planning ought to start with the data as it stands.

That will be on probability of disease and actual coverage, not expecting miracles after hiring community health officers to oversee mosquito control.

Senior UNICEF officials were in attendance at the conference, where it was observed that digital health tools are a vital cog in the wheel of efforts to help propel health care services, especially at primary level. 

They cited the fact that the use of digital health tools like electronic medical records can rapidly boost performance.

The question, though, is where the focus ought to be at the moment – whether it is the universal supply of computers at primary health care level or free supply of at least 50 types of basic drugs.

There is an old expression that must always be adapted to reality, though it was all too clever by a half even at its inception. It goes thus: “We must run while others walk”.

To be more accurate, we need to choose where to run and where to walk – in which case, for upper levels of treatment considered as referral hospitals, universal computer records will likely be there already.

At these other levels there will be general data on patients on a daily basis, while spreading access to free drugs at least up to a certain level.

Experts at the conference focused on technology because they have left the drugs issue to insurance, a hurdle they must admit we are yet to cross.