Right now, millions of Indians do not have access to hospitals or clinical laboratories. They have to travel for hours to get even simple medical tests done and wait for days before they can have their test reports. Particularly for women who run households, taking time off to travel for diagnostics becomes less of a priority.

But as the pilot test in Muktsar illustrates, simple blood or urine tests on time can save lives. With the Slate, midwives or trained community health workers can conduct medical tests and provide basic treatment. Their initial assessment helps them decide which patients they should refer to doctors.

“The idea was to democratize diagnostics so that everyone has access to good healthcare,” said 35-year-old Kahol. “Right now this field is monopolized by very few players.”

Access to timely diagnosis

India has 0.7 physicians per 1,000 people, compared with 2.5 in USA and 1.9 in China. 

In certain health indicators, Asia’s third largest economy performs as badly as some sub-Saharan countries. For instance, India and Nigeria account for the highest number of maternal deaths in the world. But affordable innovations that integrate information technology and medicine might just be what the doctor ordered.

Swasthya Slate costs Rs39,000 ($640). The tests conducted on SS cost a fraction of what they would cost in a pathology lab. For instance, a dengue test on SS is for Rs300 ($5), whereas it can cost between Rs1500-Rs5000($25-$80) in cities. The test results of the SS have 95 to 99% similarity to results delivered using conventional equipments used by path labs, says Kahol.  

Pilot tests on SS are being conducted in 13 states in India in partnership with many voluntary organizations. In March 2014, Jammu and Kashmir became the first state to implement the use of SS in its Reproductive Maternal Newborn Child and Adolescent Health program. More than 3,000 ‘slates’ were given to healthcare providers in six remote districts all over the state.

“This will empower ANMs (auxiliary nurse midwife) to diagnose better and create a database for these patients.” said Anuradha Gupta, then mission director of the National Health Mission, Government of India, at the launch of the program.

Right now, SS  is used by community health workers, but Kahol plans to make it commercially available by the end of this year.

Mapping health trends

Health monitoring is hard in India because of lack of real-time and relevant data. The last National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the country’s main source of health statics, was conducted in 2005-06. Such surveys are extremely laborious and require vast amount of paperwork and years of fieldwork.

The absence of actionable data makes it very challenging to formulate public health policy.

But in SS all the medical information is stored in a central server instantly and can serve as a database for both government and doctors.

For instance, SS has already helped Hyderabad government decide where to put information posters on diabetes in the city. Every time the tablet is used, it records the GPS coordinates of the patents and the health workers. This data helped heath officials in Hyderabad figure out the localities with the highest concentration of people suffering from high blood sugar level.

“The science that we will get from this data will be spectacular,” says Kahol.”We will create an information-driven health system instead of an intuition-driven system.”

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