Leveraging Digital Health to Accelerate Maternal and Child Health Outcomes

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In recent years, India has made considerable progress in its maternal and child health indicators and reduced IMR and MMR by a considerable fraction. Frontline workers like ASHA and ANM have played a central role by improving accessibility, generating awareness and enhancing utilisation of ANC and PNC services.
However, there exist several challenges across the continuum of care that need to be mitigated in order to reduce regional disparities and overcome systematic bottlenecks.
These include:
Shortage of skilled personnel like gynaecologists and paediatricians, resulting in poor performance in cases of complex medical situations;
Lack of conveyance to transport women to care facilities in case of obstetric emergencies;
High out-of-pocket expenditure in both public and private facilities which affects affordability of institutional birth facilities and;
Limited health-seeking behaviour, fuelled by lack of education, poor perception of public facilities and poor awareness about support programmes.

Digital health has emerged as a viable option to overcome these challenges in an effective and efficient manner. Tech-enabled solutions can be deployed across the care continuum to bridge the gap between beneficiaries and providers and augment capabilities of frontline workers, generate awareness and improve access to specialist services. In this document, we have outlined the various components of the maternal and child health care continuum and the archetypes of digital solutions, namely IVRS, chatbots, mHealth apps, EMR and point-of-care devices.
This perspective identifies four core areas for funders looking to harness the potential of technology to accelerate maternal and child health outcomes. These include:
• Increasing health-seeking behaviour for expectant mothers and the community by using low-cost, high-reach solutions like IVRS and chatbots to generate mass awareness.
• Increasing access to specialist care and strengthening service delivery by allowing remote consultations using telemedicine, mHealth applications and better diagnosis via point-of-care devices.
• Empowering frontline health workers and enabling task shifting to improve efficiency, and deliver standardised care by leveraging mHealth apps for tracking beneficiary health data, task management and capacity augmentation.
• And lastly, strengthening data-enabled decision-making at all levels of healthcare by using Electronic Medical Records to store and aggregate data at various levels for effective policy formulation.

Authors: Granthika Chatterjee, Anurag Garg and Gyanika Narayanaswamy
Technical review: Lakshmi Sethuraman

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