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Indian health care needs IT boost

Shaleen Sinha

Health care providers in India will spend 57 billion rupees on IT products and services in 2013 compared to 53 billion rupees spent in 2012.

The 7% increase was revealed in recent Gartner research that looked at the IT plans of Indian hospitals, ambulatory services and physicians' practices.

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India's health care needs are vast across the urban cities and wide rural areas and rising demand from the growing middle class in India's large cities is fueling growth in private sector health care," said Anurag Gupta, research director at Gartner. "Many state governments and institutions are realizing this potential and are gradually spurring growth along the primary and secondary care sector and public health domain."

The Indian health care sector is diverse with delivery channels like public sector, private care and not-for-profit trust hospitals. At the same time the public sector is trying to expand the access to care (especially to people in rural areas), the private sector would like to provide high quality care to the urban middle classes.

IT can help address both ideas, said Gupta. "Telemedicine and mobility have the potential to expand coverage [to rural areas] and leveraging various e-health systems can help improve quality of care."

The spending is mainly on internal IT, including personnel, hardware, software, external IT services and telecommunications:

  • Telecommunications and networking equipment and services will be the largest overall spending category with spending increasing 3.9% to reach 17.2 billion rupees in 2013 compared to 16.6 billion rupees last year.
  • Internal services, which refer to salaries and benefits paid to the information services staff of an organization, will have the highest growth rate of 18%. Information services staff includes all company employees who plan, develop, implement and maintain information systems.
  • IT services spending will reach 14.5 billion rupees this year compared to 13.2 billion rupees in 2012. This 9.7% increase is due to growth in process management and consulting.

Gupta said the Indian health care sector requires major investment in IT. "[The] Indian health care sector should focus more on building the health/hospital information systems at the local level lead by the hospitals/hospital groups. At the regional/national level, the stakeholders can concentrate on creating policies to enhance adoption of various health ICT [information and communication technology] initiatives."

Gupta said most hospitals rely on paper files indicating that electronic health record adoption in India is still low. "Once the basic health information systems have been put in place, the hospitals can start leveraging the data for business intelligence and analytics applications," said Gupta.

"ICT use is leapfrogging from back-office support and administrative functions into core clinical care delivery to help clinicians deliver cost-effective quality care. ICT is evolving from being an operational cost center to being a critical strategic differentiator for health care delivery organizations."

Gupta said although India needs large investments in health care infrastructure (such as additional hospital beds), the increasing spending on ICT initiatives "definitely improves the health care delivery and makes health care available to the needy while supporting the national goals."