17/05/2016 8:23 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Connected Diagnostics: The Path To A Stronger Healthcare System

Adnan Abidi / Reuters
A laboratory staff member holds a patient's blood sample inside a laboratory at Janakpuri Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi January 19, 2015. The empty hospitals in the heart of the Indian capital are emblematic of the paralysis gripping a public health system that is responsible for some of the world's worst health indicators. Many of the country's 1.2 billion people have a choice between expensive private care, or no care at all. Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces many challenges to his stated goal of providing universal public health coverage, but one of the most daunting is ending the logjams that mean officials consistently fail to use their budgets. Picture taken January 19, 2015. To match Insight INDIA-HEALTHCARE/HOSPITALS REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH POLITICS)

An open-source solution for the management of data produced as a result of medical diagnostic investigations would be a boon for India.

Each time a diagnostic test is performed, important information is generated -- both for patients and for the public health community. Who is sick? Where are they located? Are they improving on treatment? Are there enough trained operators and test equipment to meet the case load? Accurately capturing and effectively using such data would make linkage of patients to care, maintenance of medical records, and public health surveillance far easier and more consistent. It would facilitate better management of epidemics, including drug-resistant tuberculosis, and more rapid detection of outbreaks -- as we have seen in monitoring resurgent Ebola cases in West Africa. Plus, it would further enhance implementation of diagnostic tests by allowing improved impact measurement, inventory management and quality assurance of devices.

[E]ffectively using such data would make linkage of patients to care, maintenance of medical records, and public health surveillance far easier and more consistent.

Recording and managing data is an increasingly complex challenge in many low- and middle-income countries, including India. Most test results are recorded manually in paper-based, isolated systems, leading to transcription errors and data loss. In the absence of standardized approaches to data management, the devices that are able to transmit results electronically often have proprietary data capture solutions, meaning information they generate tends to exist in isolation. As diagnostic tests become more sophisticated, greater volumes and more diverse kinds of information are produced. Ultimately, data generated by multiple different testing platforms needs to be aggregated, packaged in usable formats and channelled to appropriate users.

At FIND, we believe that the solution lies in better use of information and communication technologies, including mobile phone networks. All diagnostic devices should be able to communicate results electronically to a secure platform enabling harmonized data collection and improved access to and use of clinical and programmatic information.

The potential functions and benefits of a single, national 'connected diagnostics platform' include:

  • Real-time transmission of data from diagnostic platforms over mobile networks.
  • Aggregation of data from any 'connected' diagnostic device, regardless of disease, device location or manufacturer.
  • Automatic data analysis for device management and quality assurance, e.g., usage statistics, inventory levels, error rates, and device performance information.
  • Open source, user-friendly software.
  • Enhanced, built-in data encryption and security measures.

In order to bring such a solution to life, FIND is pushing forward consensus-based development and publication of standards for device connectivity. These standards will help define a uniform approach to data capture and management from diagnostic devices, and accelerate the availability of connected diagnostics. To complement the development of fit-for-purpose software, hardware, and data management platforms, FIND is facilitating the development of guidance and policy to govern the use of connected diagnostics. These efforts will create an enabling environment for the implementation of a connected diagnostics platform in India and elsewhere.

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