The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) under the health and family welfare ministry has reformulated its management information system (MIS) to include components of e-health and medical biotechnology (MBT). The DGHS is also developing a population health registry through geographical reconnaissance (GR).
A quick look at the DGHS website provides a number of links to access a variety of information regarding e-health and MBT. A user can access information for each district and even for each hospital under the governance of the DGHS. A few more projects are in progress to create a robust network of systems for healthcare delivery. Bangladesh's progress in the successful adoption of IT in its healthcare services industry has also been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its report titled Bangladesh Health System Review.
The alignment of programme outputs with key healthcare issues continues to be important. It is also important to see how modern technologies can improve the effectiveness of these health service programmes.
The WHO conducted a situational analysis of production, supply and dispensation of medicines in Bangladesh in 2014–15 and published a report covering the same. The report indicates that several healthcare facilities suffer due to the unavailability of medicines. Some of these health service delivery facilities reported a 50 percent unavailability of medicines. To solve this problem, a robust inventory management system connecting all such facilities should be developed. This system should be able to provide timely information on stock in each healthcare delivery centre. In addition, the system must be capable of providing a realistic fulfilment plan for each of these medicines. Subsequently, these fulfilment plans can be published so that a registered manufacturer can consider these as production inputs and plan for the production of its medicines accordingly.
Technological advancements should be applied so that information is easily available to participants in the health system and everybody receives the intended benefits, including patients.
Another area of improvement is the effectiveness of prescriptions. The effectiveness of a prescription improves significantly when the prescribed medicines are in stock and consistency is maintained in prescribing medicines for common types of diseases. A medical practitioner who uses the right kind of clinic management system can take online assistance to understand the availability of medicines in a store and prescribe them accordingly.
The practitioner can also get online support based on her/his observation of the patient and subsequent documentation. Such technological assistance usually improves the effectiveness of each prescription significantly. The online preparation and storage of prescriptions will also bring two more benefits: (a) earlier prescriptions of the same patient will be available for quick reference, and (b) advanced technologies will be able to assist in reviewing and analyzing the prescriptions in an electronic format.
This will result in the creation of electronic health records (EHRs). Some hospitals in Bangladesh already have basic systems for EHRs. They can focus on further digitisation of records, and use of analytics to gain insights from data. They can also start thinking of adopting other advanced technologies for patient care and operations management.
The healthcare service industry in developed nations has already adopted EHRs in some form. About 90% of hospitals in the USA have begun using EHRs, according to a report published by PwC. Moreover, healthcare providers in developed countries have now started adopting emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robots, virtual reality and 3D printing. In fact, the application of 3D printing started several years ago in the field of dentistry, where companies developed specialised orthodontic systems. In the coming years, we expect to see some of these advanced technologies being used in Bangladesh as well.
The field of surgical procedures is slowly evolving through the adoption of robotic procedures and augmented reality based interventions. The use of robotic surgical procedures enhances the speed and accuracy of medical procedures, thereby improved quality of patient services.
Many organisations in developed as well as emerging countries are exploring the possibility of deploying drones to supply healthcare goods quickly in case of emergencies. The use of drones to transport medicines will be highly effective in disaster-hit areas—for example, areas affected by floods. Many organisations are also exploring the possibility of sharing critical, life-saving healthcare resources, such as rare blood groups, by deploying an effective drone-powered transportation system.
While each technology brings unique advantages to patient care and improves the overall state of the healthcare industry, its impact is not going to be uniform across countries. Hence, it is imperative that the technologies chosen for healthcare services in Bangladesh are closely aligned with the intended benefits for patients and other stakeholders.
For some organisations in Bangladesh, improving their medicine inventory management will lead to significant benefits for their present state of services. For others, building a robust EHR management system will deliver the best set of benefits. For healthcare research organisations in Bangladesh, a robust data and analytics platform built on a robust suite of enterprise applications may be useful to accelerate research findings and breakthrough discovery.
Additionally, the successful adoption of medical sensors, Internet of things (IoT) devices and mobility solutions will lead to impactful progress in the healthcare service delivery industry.
All of the technologies discussed above will require the workforce of the healthcare industry to acquire new skills. There will also be a need to hire new talent, or to collaborate with enterprises capable of assisting with the development of these technologies. Healthcare organisations should plan to identify and collaborate with technology organisations that will be able to assist them by complementing the delivery of services.
With all the above-mentioned technologies gradually becoming part of the healthcare services industry, the industry is set to undergo a major transformation in the next few years.
The writer is a partner at PwC. The views expressed here are personal.