I witnessed an interesting confluence of events early last month. The Indian Chapter of the global organisation Healthcare Information and Management Society, perhaps better known by its acronym HIMSS, hosted its inaugural Digital Healthcare Summit conference and exhibition in Gurgaon, and my own company Napier Healthcare launched its Home Care and Referral Management solutions at the event.
For the uninitiated, HIMSS is an industry event where the Who’s Who of Healthcare assemble to discuss the most pressing issues of the day with the hope of starting approaches to resolving them for the betterment of care delivery everywhere. Usually, there is a diverse assortment of people: policy makers, vendors of all hues and dyes, job seekers, start-ups in search of investors, self-serving people looking to promote themselves and so on. In short, at a HIMMS event you will always find a motley crew of characters that an anthropologist would greatly enjoy meeting. This event hosted by HIMSS India Chapter did not disappoint in that respect.
However, there were some elements I found lacking. For instance, I observed that among the participants of both the conference sessions and the exhibition hall, there were too few from the startup community of the Indian market. The Indian startup ecosystem today is vibrant and has many interesting success stories, but out of the more than 100 companies that we had heard from or met throughout the year, only a handful were present at the event pitching their wares. The absence of the many was striking. I would ask for more startups to come forward and use this platform to share their fresh ideas with the larger community—be it go raise funds or gain more customers.
Another thing I found interesting was how the show reflected the state of the healthcare IT market in India, particularly with respect to the quality of the solutions healthcare providers are choosing to explore and purchase. There is a world of difference between the Indian market between that of the US, despite both being democracies handling similar health problems on such a large scale.
Software Certification Does Matter in Delivering Quality Care
The one major point of differentiation is in how seriously their players and customers see and appreciate the value of industry standards and certifications.
My basis of comparison is the US because Napier has been very active there and does its business there with especial focus on what we consider to be baseline certifications, such as HIPAA and Meaningful Use Stage 2. These certifications are a good thing for the industry because, aside from keeping practice, security, clinical, financial and operational standards high, they create enormous entry barriers for non-serious players, thereby maintaining the quality of the solutions that healthcare providers get to choose from. The efforts involved in meeting the stringent requirements for attaining them also often spark off innovation by solution providers who go on to achieve full certification. And so solution vendors worth their salt in the US are typically at pains to achieve them.
In India, however, we are often faced with situations where vendors offer an entire hospital information system (HIS) for US$30,000 to US$50,000 with implementation and support contracts thrown in for good measure. It is frustrating then to see many C-suite decision makers actively consider such vendors, who will inevitably vanish in 3-5 years due to lack of financial viability.
Their low pricing and final insolvency stems from the same cause: an original business plan that chooses not to invest in the long-term value of their products. That includes not undergoing the rigorous process of having their products certified, which in itself enhances them.
Currently, many vendors in India continue to do business with hardly any certifications. A case in point is their deficiency in certification for EHR (electronic health record) standards, which were published last year!
This is unfortunate, I believe, because Indian healthcare IT could see huge strides forward more quickly if more of its solution vendors were certified by such standards.
As it stands today, the policy framework in the US ensures that EHRs are sold with certain features that ensure nearly zero medical errors, well supported transitions of care and generally a higher standard of care delivery.
A simple framework for EHRs that is enforced–much like the Meaningful Use stipulations–would go a long way in ensuring that the basic foundation for healthcare is laid in India.
That is the one deficiency in Indian healthcare IT I would most like to see fulfilled soon.
—By Tirupathi Karthik
The author is the CEO of Napier Healthcare and a strong supporter of investment in technologies and standards that enhance the delivery of care and improve the bottom line for care providers. This piece first appeared on ETHealthworld.com, an initiative of The Economic Times (India), on September 29, 2015.