The COVID pandemic pushed the health sector across the world to go digital. This initially posed a challenge for governments but also opened numerous opportunities that evolve into a technology-driven sector that could now cater to more people, even from remote areas virtually. Addressing this Dr Veena Singh, Director General of Health Services Health Department, Government of Haryana, spoke at Elets Digital Governance Summit, Haryana Edition.
Speaking on tackling the COVID situation, Dr Singh said, “We have always harnessed and leveraged IT to our advantage, especially during the COVID pandemic. We already had E-Upchar in place but what came in as major support during the tough times was E Sanjeevini OPD and telemedicine.” When the pandemic wave was on the rise, the first challenge was to make people aware of the situation of hospitals and beds availability. So, a portal was made overnight ‘Heal Haryana’ and another portal which displayed the availability of beds on a dashboard on daily basis. People could also login to the portal to check for availability, she added.
As many as 90 per cent of the COVID patients were in-home quarantine and the only way to reach them was through virtual modes. Therefore, the Health Department came up with a helpline 1075. A lot of IEC was used to spread the word among people about the telemedicine services available with the government.
“We have come a long way since the COVID struck and things first went digital. These days, the patients are updated enough that they conduct their own rapid tests and upload the results online. We had started daily bulleting wherein daily updates on the testing count, the number of new patients tested positive, the number of patients hospitalised, and the availability of beds. As a result of the efforts, we could bring forth best practices daily,” Dr Singh highlighted.
Detailing on the initiatives taken to tackle the pandemic situation, she said, “We set up a control room to stay connected with the people. We provided psychological first aid as the COVID pandemic was novel and people were in fear. Also, we reached out to the people and made a self-help group comprising 95 psychologists. Soon, we received numerous calls from across the state for help. In addition, we had two types of telemedicine facilities,
E-Sanjeevini where the patient was directly connected with the doctor for e-consultation. The second was where we opened online registration for civil hospitals to prevent crowding at the hospitals. The move allowed us to maintain COVID appropriate behaviour at the healthcare facilities.”
Today, the Health Department works on virtual mode. Training sessions were held for the health officials for handling the COVID patients. “We conducted tremendous training at all levels for doctors, nurses, support staff, and other staffers. Haryana is second in the country in E-Sanjeevini,” she added.
The Co-Win portal was used largely by the people to register for vaccinations during the pandemic. There is a lot that the department has done but a lot needs to be done. As there is an acute shortage of doctors and other medical professionals, the department had to find solutions to support the existing workforce.
Therefore, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was introduced for redundant tasks and providing support in acts like scanning an X-Ray. The department adopted AI-driven tools in its healthcare facilities.
Addressing internet penetration and challenges in digitisation, Dr Singh pointed out that in Haryana, only 52 per cent of the people are using the internet and most of these people are between the ages of 18 to 29.Therefore, the penetration of the internet is low, especially in rural and remote areas. Hence, there is a need to strengthen the state IT infrastructure. Moreover, the department is making continuous efforts to provide quality care through telemedicine services so that the people would not lose faith in the government services.