India’s health service innovates to keep health centers open

New IT processes and initiatives have taken hold across government as agencies find ways to deal with the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, but many have had to adopt solutions simply to continue delivering their services. regular amid office closures, equipment shortages and other pandemic hurdles.

For example, in April 2020, the Indian Health Service had to expand its small telehealth center to all providers in its network of 568 facilities to meet demand.

“We’ve seen the number of remote workers grow from a few hundred full-timers to a few thousand,” says Mitchell Thornbrugh, CIO of IHS.

IHS also recognized early in the pandemic the need to detect where and how quickly the disease was spreading to adjust services and staff. In March 2020, he developed a national dashboard where healthcare providers could report COVID-19 test results.

“We could see trends with an increase in seven-day positivity, in total cases,” says Thornbrugh. “It gave leaders the knowledge they needed to respond and prepare appropriately.”

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Modernization has moved quickly to meet the needs of suppliers

Prior to the pandemic, IHS had embarked on a major multi-year modernization effort, and the demands of the pandemic accelerated those plans. IHS used $141 million in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and American Rescue Plan Act to meet local needs, such as increased circuitry, wireless components, and mobile devices.

For example, some facilities extended Wi-Fi to parking lots and gave patients’ families tablets so they could talk to each other while buildings were quarantined.

One need that became an immediate priority was the stabilization of the IHS Patient and Resource Management System (RPMS), the electronic health record platform used to track IHS patient medical histories.

The system is installed separately at each facility, and although they all use a common code base, each site configures the RPMS to meet their own needs, making troubleshooting difficult and affecting data integrity nationwide .

“We know we have a multi-year modernization effort underway, but it could take up to a decade, depending on funding levels,” says Thornbrugh. “Obviously there were changes that needed to be made for the pandemic.”

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Pandemic response improves health care for the future

In addition to changes to accommodate COVID-19 as a managed disease in the RPMS environment, IHS has released patches to enable vaccine notification through automated interfaces. It distributed 61 software releases between February 2020 and June 2021.

“It involved a lot of fieldwork,” says Thornbrugh.

Since the RPMS is installed in each institution, each had to adopt these changes and train users. In April 2020, IHS decided to replace its RPMS system rather than rewrite it. The pandemic, Thornbrugh says, “has really underscored our need for change and modernization as a whole.”

The new system, which will take several years to roll out, will improve record keeping and disease tracking across the country for all types of patients and diseases, even after the pandemic is over.

“Everyone did a great job getting the national scorecard up and running, but it took a lot of local effort,” says Thornbrugh. “It was every hospital, every clinic having to check the numbers daily, having to reconcile the changes if the data changed. We look forward to when the standardization of data – this kind of national reporting – happens much faster. »

READ MORE: IHS CIO Mitchell Thornbrugh talks about the early days of RPMS modernization.

Maria J. Book