After much planning and dithering, the government’s idea to digitise everyone’s health data has finally taken off. It took two years and seven revisions to put its stamp on the design of the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP). And in the last week of December, the health ministry finally decided who will build it.

It wasn’t spoilt for choices. There were just three contenders, from which the ministry picked a consortium of two services companies—Pune-based Persistent Systems, and IMS Health, headquartered in Connecticut, US. This, over Delhi’s Vayam Technologies and Minnesota-headquartered healthcare company UnitedHealth Group. Both Persistent and UnitedHealth proved their technical ability to build IHIP over many meetings between them and the ministry officials over 2017. On 30 November 2017, however, they were asked to quote their price. Persistent cinched the decision in its favour with the lowest bid at Rs 50 crore ($7.9 million).

“It fell into a sweet spot. This bid is an example of a strategy gone right as we have done this before and we own the intellectual property rights,” said a senior executive of Persistent Systems. Founded in 1990, the IT company provides services such as cloud computing, mobility and analytics. Persistent’s strength to build IHIP is two-fold—the experience of building health exchange for the state of Louisiana (which connects 16 hospitals) in the US, and the right to tweak it to bring it to India. “It took a lot of time to understand how to do it right, but now, the health information exchange is our product. We can tweak it and sell it anywhere,” he elaborated.

Persistent and IMS, which provide services and technology to the healthcare industry, hope to begin the project by March and complete it within the year. Ultimately, IHIP is expected to predict a health emergency, improve the patient experience via a mobile application; and with precise information on disease profiles, it would eventually reduce the cost of government programmes. For instance, by targeting the pre-hypertension population, the government would be able to prevent hypertension and reduce the financial burden of cardiovascular diseases.

Persistent Systems, which earned Rs 2,878 crore ($ 454 million) in 2016-17, brings in much-vaunted and critiqued capability. That of building health information exchanges in the US, the bedrock of former US President Barack Obama’s health care policy, Obamacare. But Obamacare didn’t have a smooth ride in the US; IHIP may have a rough ride in India, too. One of the major challenges in implementing Obamacare in the US has been pushing doctors and hospitals to collect electronic health records (EHR). In India, apart from other things, EHR, which is rudimentary and rare, also varies from hospital to hospital. More importantly, the excitement within the health ministry isn’t reciprocated by the doctors who interact with the patients.

Real-time info can prevent a crisis, only if it is collected

The whiteboard in Pramod Jacob’s cubicle has an illustration—the spread of Ebola virus from one village to a few towns and then to cities across the world.

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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