Anurag Agarwal says the initiative is about creating massive data sets that will give a sense of what’s going to happen in terms of recognizing diseases in their early stages. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

 It was once a large rectangular container used by a computer company to ship products.   Now, the container, as large as a railway coach, is a clinic that may well define the future of healthcare in India.
The clinic, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, opened last week, an initiative of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) and Hewlett-Packard India. The man in charge of the project, Anurag Agrawal, a doctor and asthma researcher, is convinced the solution for India’s abysmal doctor-patient ratio and its befuddling mix of Ayurveda and Western medicine, lies in something that will at once be familiar to quantitative analysts on Wall Street or, closer home, on Dalal Street— the collective intelligence of dumb data.
And so, when villagers troop into the makeshift clinic for a review, a machine automatically collects blood samples and an unmanned terminal shoots and zooms a cardiogram into a cloud server, and the diagnosis follows.
India, which has less than one doctor for every 1,700 people—the US has one for every 390, Japan, one for every 500, and China, one for every 950, according to the World Health Organization—has experimented with a variety of ways to deal with the problem. It has used nurses and paramedics at rural primary healthcare centres who screen coughs and colds and prescribe over-the-counter medication, and it has used urban pharmacists, who frequently don the prescriptorial white coats, to do the same. Now, Dr. Agarwal believes centres such as the one in Lakhimpur Kheri could work as effective, medical intermediaries in the future.
That’s not a radical thought in a country where e-health became a buzz word long before e-commerce, although it can be argued that better connectivity and the cloud (still relatively new) may mean its time has finally come.
Meanwhile, Agrawal is even more enthused by the possibility of collecting copious amounts of data from centres such as the one at Lakhimpur Kheri—pulse readings, blood pressure and glucose levels, and anything else he can lay his hands on.
Such data is gold, he explains.
“More than public health, it is about creating massive data sets that will give us a sense of what’s going to happen in terms of recognizing diseases in their early stages,” said Agrawal. And such analysis can throw light on hitherto unexplained phenomena, he adds.
Drawing on his own as-yet unpublished work, Agrawal offers the example of spirometry (breath measurement) readings.
The spirometry reading of an asthmatic looks no different from that of a normal person between attacks. Yet, “when we biopsy their lungs, there is something distinctly different, and so my students and I used a set of Fourier transforms to reinterpret these spirometry data”.
Fourier transforms are a staple of mathematical modelling and simply allow better interpretation and understanding of functions. Frequency signals, for instance, make more sense when their individual frequencies are separated.
“You do that, and by trial and error, we can see newer patterns emerge. Patterns that distinguish readings between asthmatics and regular people and that reveal massive differences in the way their lungs function,” he added. Read more
Courtesy: live mint