Recently I accompanied a sick relative for a medical checkup at one of our government hospitals. It took over five minutes for the on call nurse to find her name in the register book and verify her appointment. If I were to take a wild guess I would blame it on the spidery hand that had been used to take down the patient’s details during the previous appointment. Then there was the size of the book: it is by far the largest book I have ever seen: close to half a meter in width and length. Why is it we do not have a national medical repository that every hospital, even, public hospitals can use?
The benefits are self-evident and immense. A central repository that is not tied to one proprietary database software provider would ensure that you are able and free to move from one medical practitioner to another without losing your medical history. Consider for example the wealth of information contained in your yellow child health card like the one held above. Chances are if you are an adult like myself the card is already lost or at best an unreadable dog-eared mess. Or maybe you and your parents were careful but that hardly negates the fact that a networked database would be nice and much more easily accessible not to say hard-wearing.
What killed your great-grandfather (maternal or paternal)? We all know they were bewitched by their enemies who were jealous of them but what were the physiological causes of death. Was it lung cancer, leukemia, a freak aneurysm or Parkinson’s? Perhaps the diseases had a psychological twist like Alzheimer’s. Did your grandmother die of breast cancer? Does your family have a history of cancer, Alzheimer’s or Schizophrenia? These diseases are hereditary and knowing your family’s medical history would go a long way in determining the longevity and quality of life you are going to lead. True some of the diseases have no cure but most people would want to know how they are going to punch out and be prepared for the ordeal.Moreover medical research would be a lot easier if there was an organized database of our country’s medical history. How many people have HIV/AIDS? What is the leading cause of death in our country so that we can prioritize our resources and fight it?
Establishing a centralized depository would be no small feat for a country without a single supercomputer. The government for some unknown reason continues to lag behind when it comes to implementing IT based solutions. And whenever they do they tend to be one of those ill-advised proprietary solutions that require Internet Explorer or some other weird requirement. This often results in vendor lock in and systems that are difficult to extend.
One way of solving the database problem would be to establish a private paid solution and I seem to remember a similar suggestion coming up during the 2011 ZOL Startup challenge.Besides the serious IT costs several other difficulties are likely to be encountered however, the least of which is convincing people to trust you and join your database. The second hurdle is to convince medical establishments to support and use your database which they would be hardly motivated to do unless there is a real incentive for them to do so. The third problem is convincing people to pay for using the database.
All these arguments point to the database being a public good like refuse collection and street lights. Everyone needs these but no one is willing to pay for them. Likewise everyone needs a database but either they don’t know it or they are unwilling to pay for it. Perhaps like me they do not know how to get one. For the meantime we are going to be stuck with this for a while longer.