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July 19, 2013

Big Data Emerges in Indian Health Care

Alex Woodie

While big data has had an impact on several facets of Indian’s people, health care has not generally been one of them. That’s beginning to change, as public health experts and entrepreneurs in the populous and technologically advanced country are beginning to collect big data from its citizens and put to use to improve their health.

One public healthcare app that’s beginning to gain traction is KGB, an acronym that refers to the Indian words for garbage, dirt, and bad smell. The KGB app enables Indian people to post pictures on social media websites whenever they see an area with questionable hygiene or sanitation.

“One can click a picture of garbage or stagnant water, and post on any of the social networking platforms,” Kanav Kahol, a tech expert with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), recently said in a story published on Mint. “The pictures on KGB will come to our central database and we forward it to relevant authorities. If there are more pictures from a single neighborhood, we can tell what kind of vector-borne diseases can be expected in the coming weeks.”

The exercise machines in gyms are another potential source of actionable information in India. The treadmills, stair-steppers, and stationary bikes already generate information about people’s workout. But what if that information was collected and analyzed for each individual? This technique could be used to determine how much a person exercises on a regular basis. Any deviations could be an indicator of worsening health conditions, he tells Mint.

There are similar efforts underway to predict disease based on information collected from health clinics. The country’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is studying the possibility of using heartbeat and blood data collected from a series of health clinics.

Specifically, the CSIR is collecting data from the clinics and using algorithms that can identify patterns associated with asthma and chronic pulmonary obstruction disease. “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,” Anurag Agrawal, a doctor and researcher with the CSIR, tells Mint.

Another promising healthcare project is underway, but in India’s private sector. The idea behind Arogya Mobile Health Pvt. Ltd.’s plan is to send paid technicians into villages equipped with a mobile device. The technicians will record vital information from villagers, including weight, temperature, blood pressure, and electrocardiogram readings.

The devices will send the data over Bluetooth and Internet connections to Arogya’s servers, which will use automatically parse the health data and determine if the patient needs a follow-up.

Ashutosh Pande, the founder of Arogya Mobile Health, hopes to amass a big data set that can be used for predicting early onset heart disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “These were once supposedly the diseases of the affluent but new data shows that such afflictions are increasingly found in rural areas,” he tells Mint.

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