By ICTpost Health IT Bureau
The rural health system of India is plagued by serious resource shortfall and underdevelopment of infrastructure leading to deficient health care for a majority of India. The differences in urban-rural ealth indicators are a harsh reality even today. 42% of India’s children below the age of three are malnourished, which is greater than the statistics of sub-Saharan African region of 28%. Diseases such as dengue fever, hepatitis, tuberculosis, malaria and pneumonia continue to plague India due to increased resistance to drugs. India is ranked 3rd highest among countries with a high rate of HIVinfected persons.
While the powers of healthcare IT to radically transform the health of a patient population are widely lauded, one thing that isn’t discussed as much are the areas where the technology could do the most good but doesn’t often reach to.
Tough, the inroads health IT can make in these populations, and provided some key insights on how health IT can benefit minority populations and how to reach them.
Are there big factors holding developers back? One of the problems in getting health IT to reach underserved populations is that there is a lack of developers working to create applications for those groups. There’s no real personal connection to the populations that are the most underserved. The first big step to take is to connect with the underserved populations and to begin to understand the communities and their needs. People need to build those bridges so they can take the amazing things they’re doing that are so creative and make them useful to those who really need it. Partnering with local organizations can be a way to break the ice and get input on how best to reach people.
We can work now with what we have and where we are and if we educate, there will be this great population who’s able to continue to do it moving in the future.
Concerns around cost. The cost of health IT is often seen as a factor that holds it back from underserved populations. If we design things that are for populations that often times have the worst disparities … but also produce some of the highest costs, then we have an opportunity to reduce costs in healthcare.
Go local first, and then scale up. Launching an initiative aimed at underserved populations can be a daunting task. Many minority groups are simply not understood well enough to have an effective health technology partnership. Starting with a focus on a particular local group a nd partnering with a community is one way to create a lasting, scalable model for success. Even if a community group isn’t particularly tech- or healthcare-centric, they still are a valuable partner who understands the populace and can help communicate and engage with people. Once a local project begins to take off, those lessons can be scaled up. You’re going to learn some basic principles in worthing with local organizations that you can apply on a national level. Communicate. Collaborate. Because minorities are often misunderstood or underrepresented, developers are not often willing to jump in to uncharted territory. This is partly because “people aren’t always ready to ask the tough questions or hear the tough answers. For communities, you’re going to hear the tough answers.” What matters in launching a project designed to target health matters in underserved communities is an open and effective line of communication. Taking the time to build relationships, and not jumping in and jumping out, I think are the key things. This all needs to be part of the communication process.