Why India’s Health data needs a booster jab

News: India’s health data system is not functioning properly. It requires a complete overhaul.

About 16 years ago, HIV AIDS was threatening to become a pandemic. Then, no answers were available on the questions related to the prevalence of the disease, due to the unavailability of data. The situation, even today, has not improved much.

What are the challenges associated with the present data collection system?

Today data is collected from multiple sources like national sample survey Organisation, national family health survey, etc. but these systems are opaque, Open water tight compartments and interoperability is difficult. These data sets are not shared even between ministries and not open-sourced to analysts and commentators.

What are the challenges posed by lack of data during pandemic?

First, Health officials are unable to determine the spread of COVID-19 infections among various age groups and were not able to focus attention on the most vulnerable.

Read here: Need for real-time data on public health

Second, due to inaccurate death-related data, adequate policies could not be made. The correct numbers would have helped in managing supplies, mortuaries, and even cremation facilities. Reliable data would have lessened the pressure on the healthcare staff and frontline workers.

Good governance demands evidence-based policy-making which depends on the availability of data. For example, NFHS-3 showed poor nutritional outcomes, after which nutritional policies were evolved.

What are the issues with the policies linked to data collection and dissemination?

Transparency: The first problem is the transparency and confidence in releasing the information. For example,

The technology and the maker of Arogya Setu app have not been declared. National informatics Centre first denied having information about this.

The government has declared a policy of using open source software, yet the existing complicated architecture is inflexible and expensive.

The health management information system, started 13 years ago, collects an enormous amount of data, but uses only 10th of this to generate health indicators. The information for various parameters such as gender, age is often not available.

Errors and Irrelevancy in data: Also, error in data entry and surveys goes unchecked. Even if it is corrected, correction is done at the Central level only. There is also an issue of collecting lots of irrelevant data. There is also the problem of collecting data on multiple platforms or duplication of data. For example, various organisations place TB patients to be 10 million or 3 million.

Exclusion of Private sector: The private sector, which accounts for more than 70% of patient care, is not covered by a data policy.

What solutions can be adopted to improve health care services?

Data collection in health centers: Data collection at health centers should be broadened. For example, putting the weight of the child on the birth certificate and mentioning the cause of death on all death certificates would be handy in tracking child health and causes of mortality.

Private care and community-based health services: All stakeholders must be aware of the end purpose of the collection of data. For example, knowing that NREGA data will be used for granting budget, all stakeholders actively participated in Data collection for NREGA.

Openness: The data should not remain hidden behind firewalls and should be accessible and useful. The ownership of data should be decentralized, and state comments should be encouraged for data collection.

Inclusion of Private health providers: Private hospitals and diagnostic centres should be incentivised to share information. Private data aggregators could be used for this purpose.

Data policy: There is a need for a new data policy on the lines of Israel and UK with real-time data and dissemination of data.

Digital information security in the healthcare act needs to be strengthened to ensure the security of data. Technology like GPS tools can be used for data collection and immediate verification.

The rollout of the National Digital health Mission was a step in the right direction. It aims to improve efficiency effectiveness and transparency of health services delivery. This may enable an integrated digital database for healthcare in India. But this requires a transparent collection and dissemination of data.

Also read: Digital health mission in a click? Not yet

Source: This post is based on the article “Why India’s Health data needs a booster jab” published in the Livemint  on 14th January 2022.

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