Dimagi is a dedicated group of clinicians and programmers looking for ways to improve the quality of life and the quality of care across the globe. Dimagi has led development on SmartCare, the electronic national medical record system in Zambia.
Dr Vikram Sheel Kumar, architecht of Dimagi, spoke to Assistant Managing Editor Indrani Roy Mitra on the sidelines of EmTech India 2009.
The Dimagi chief executive is a physician-scientist and inventor. He submitted his first patent to the USPTO at the age of 14. He founded Dimagi in 2002. Read on to know more about him.
Please tell us about Dimagi.
Dimagi is a health software company that I co-founded out of MIT in 2002 to 'do things here'. The company had its origins in our frustration that there was more 'talk' and less 'do' when it came to digital technology for health. The word Dimagi means 'smart guy' -- we are a group of smart guys across the world who create innovative information technology for healthcare.
Please share with us some of your success stories.
Dimagi has created with its partners the national smart-card based HIV/AIDS electronic medical record for the country of Zambia. That project began as a bold idea by a brave public health and technology enthusiast from the US Center for Disease Control who was based in Zambia.
Hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from that project, and the open-source system is being extended to other countries in Africa.
Another success story is a cell-phone based HIV/AIDS medication reminder system called ARemind that in research studies has shown a significant ability to increase medication adherence in patients.
Another success story has been our ability to stick to our business model of doing well by doing good. We have grown steadily to have projects in eight countries with over a dozen partners because we invested in developing a team that has both the domain knowledge of public health and the design skills of software and health IT.
How and when did the idea generate?
The idea for the electronic record system in Zambia originated through a series of design exercises that we had with the project's leader from the US Center for Disease Control.
Other ideas such as our HIV/AIDS medication reminder system have happened when some of us -- usually including our CEO Jonathan Jackson and myself -- challenge ourselves to find an idea that solves a big problem, has a significant market, and an IT solution. We also give ourselves deadlines to come up with these ideas.
How do you go about building a network? What type of support you have got till now?
Building our network at Dimagi has been one of the most fun things that we have done. There are people who have ideas and a passion to apply their technical skills to solve big public health problems.
The community itself has supported us through exceptional people like Dr Neal Lesh -- who joined a discussion years ago and today is leading important projects with us such as CommCare, our Community Health Worker mobile software tool.
Healthcare at present is quite an expensive exercise. How does Dimagi plan to help people in this regard?
Healthcare is expensive because it lacks the processes and discipline that other industries have. Technology tools that we have designed help give transparency to healthcare delivery and increase its cost-effectiveness.
For example, we have a National Institute of Health-funded contract on home-based cancer coordination in which we are developing software tools that help patients and healthcare providers communicate around structured pieces of health data in a way that is traceable and intelligent.
Has the global downturn affected your company?
These are actually good times for us -- with the new US administration, the US National Institute of Health, a major source of our innovation funding, has a significantly increased budget.
How do you plan to tide over this economic crisis?
We have designed our company to be lean and comprised of people who do things. That gives us robustness to be able to continue to grow and deliver innovative health technology solutions across the world, even in markets like this.
Do you think clinicians today have become money making machines that lack humanity? Does Dimagi have any plan to sensitise them? How?
I am also co-founder of a distributed hospital network in Delhi called Doctor Kares Hospital and have first hand seen the often blur between the humanitarian and business sides to medicine. I am a doctor, live with doctors and work with doctors. None of the people I associate myself with aspire to be money making machines.
It is terribly sad to think that we are moving in the direction of materialisation of such a noble profession that your question is such an appropriate one for today.
What are your expansion plans?
We have some very large initiatives such as CommCare that could change the way community healthcare workers deliver their services.
Our expansion will be through moving from a complete service model to a service and product approach. We will build more localised teams in the countries we work, and will keep alive the do-good philosophy that has defined us.
Where will Dimagi be in, say, five years? How do you see it changing the lives of the masses.
In five years Dimagi will be one of the world's most important technology providers for public health. Through our systems, patients will receive better and more informed healthcare throughout the world. We will touch one million lives by then.