Learnings from Japan: National Health IT Networks are required

26 Apr

The past few days have involved almost all of us praying for Japan which was ravaged by a severe earthquake and tsunami. Japan’s most powerful earthquake in 140 years struck the north-east coast on March 11th 2011, triggering a massive tsunami leaving behind many homeless and stranded. (Information and Situation Report from WHO)

As we continue praying for hope in Japan, we are also learning all we can about how disasters can impact the way we live and seek to improve. Sadly, Japan now faces severe logistical problems and with the latest news on the mishap at a nuclear reactor, the situation only seems to be getting worse. While Japanese officials have more pressing issues on their hands, a problem that will arise as time progresses will be that those left alive may find themselves without their medical records. Natural disasters wipe out everything — including paper medical records as well as computer and communication networks.

In this time of national crisis, it would have certainly been helpful for Japan to have a robust Healthcare IT network in place. A collaborative one where it is easy to share data, which is securely backed up redundantly in multiple locations that would leverage geographical diversity as a means of countering nature’s unpredictability: Geographical Division Multiplexing if you please.

While Japan does have a Healthcare IT strategy setup, with benefits and stimulus funds, it is relatively new and yet to mature. Health data digitization and Electronic Record Keeping is still in its infancy. Japan does not boast of large scale Electronic Medical Record coverage.

Wouldn’t any country ride out disasters better with health data sharing in place? This should be taken as a wakeup call as well as a learning lesson by all nations which haven’t yet devoted time and money to setting up Nationwide Health IT Infrastructures.

India for one must be looking at learning from this.  Having a Nationwide Health IT Strategy should be treated as important as a Tsunami Alerting System (TAS). Purists will argue that a Nationwide Health IT System is not intended for alerting and helping contain situations like the TAS. And they are not completely wrong.

In many cases it has been observed that long term benefits are eventually forgotten. Instead, this concept of “Long Term benefits” must be replaced with Pre-planned Goals which must be “Sought” on maturity of a model.  Now, any system can provide a set of benefits directly on implementation, and an additional set when it has matured.

Similarly, the use case of using a Nationwide Health IT System for predicting and alerting requires a certain amount of usage at first.  A sophisticated and mature Nationwide Healthcare Network built using technology can identify the emergence of possible pandemics. Trends in symptoms can help identify risk areas, and collaborative diagnosis can help is sharing treatment plans and improving them.One must understand that if maturity of a network is required for additional goals and since that takes time, one must seek to implement early.

Links of Interest
WHO Page on Environmental Health in Emergencies
WHO page on Myths and Realities in Disaster Situations

Date: 26-04 2011

Author: Nrip Nihalani

About: Director, Plus91 Technologies (www.plus91.in). Healthcare IT and EMR company based out of Pune, India

You can read more of Nrip’s Articles at: wirelysis.blogspot.com

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