Internet for health sector reforms

It allows health care providers to integrate clinical and financial information from numerous sites.

Both developed and developing countries are at some stage of health sector reforms. They focus on equitable, affordable access to quality health care to their population. In India too, the Union government has declared its intention to remedy the present situation by initiating reforms in the health system.

Though, as a part of the formulation of the 12th Five Year Plan, the government had set up a high level expert group, with the mandate of formulating a plan for Universal Access to Health Care (UAHC), the recommendations of the group failed to realise the immense possibilities of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to augment affordability and accessibility of health care.

According to a recent World Bank report, “Reliable information and effective communication are crucial elements in public health practices. They help enabling people to produce their own health. The ability of impoverished communities to access services and engage with and demand of a health sector that responds to their priorities and needs is importantly influenced by wider information and communication processes, mediated by ICTs.” E-health, the organisation and delivery of health services and information using mainly the Internet has immense possibilities. Both Internet and Intra-net developments allow health care providers to integrate clinical and financial information from numerous sites.

Information and communication technologies can greatly influence the acquisition of health related knowledge of the population. The process of health knowledge sharing and the use of information technology are mostly facilitated by the use of Internet. The Internet offers a tool for exchanging the way the general public, medical professionals, health policy makers, and health system managers approach the delivery and consumption of health care.

Efficiency gains

The use of Internet brings in efficiency gains and health production benefits. Health related knowledge always comes at costs like the physician fee and transaction costs like the travel and time costs. Internet usage can reduce many costs and influence medical care utilisation and overall health expenditure.

Patients using the Internet to access health information can alter traditional patterns of care and relationships between patients and medical professionals. Better health information for patients provides the patient with an improved status in the patient-doctor relationship by empowering the patient with complementary knowledge. This can reduce the information asymmetry that has plagued the health systems. No longer is the patient largely relying on the opaque body of information acquired by doctors up on receipt of a medical degree.

As virtual medicine grows significantly, information focused medical visits could be performed through the Internet. Better health information could well induce more prevention and self-care, rather than reliance on health care resources. Informed patients are less likely to wait for a medical practioner.There are evidences that self care information acquired through Internet has decreased pediatric utilisation. The use of Internet could reduce health costs through decreased doctor visits and improved health information dissemination. Also patients would be able to make more informed choices about treatment options.

Access to the Internet and its use for obtaining information can reduce socio-economic inequalities in health. This access can be a socio-economic, age or language related issue. However, as computer and connection costs continue to fall, Internet use is likely to improve the dissemination of health information among large sections of society.

The dominant usage of English in medical and health related research, and thus on many health related websites can act as a barrier to many. In the Indian context the Internet is an excellent way of promoting health sector reforms and partnerships with the private sector and NGOs, both within India and worldwide. It is an efficient and low cost means of sustaining and replicating reforms initiated by GOI, development partners and other organisations. 

The potential of Internet as a resource for health sector reforms training events and courses is proven by the professional development course in State Institute of Health and Family Welfare (SIHFW) in Mohali, Punjab. Fitting well with the revised role of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, focusing on decentralised planning in the health sector, Internet represents an ideal tool for communicating good practices under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) Reproductive and Child Health (RCH2) programme and such other programmes.

Social media like the Facebook and Twitter too are changing the health care scenario .Both the consumers and producers of health care should be vigilant in using them.

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