Medical Informatics in India: Indian Association for Medical Informatics
The term “Informatics” was introduced in India through the National Informatics Centre (NIC) that was established in 1976, and has since emerged as a "prime builder" of e-Government / e-Governance applications up to the grassroots level as well as a promoter of digital opportunities for sustainable development in India.
The formation of IAMI was proposed by Prof (Dr) Nanduri Gajanana Rao, in the 80s after meeting many informatics leaders from different countries during IFIP and IMIA conferences. It took many years to get the necessary support from others and bring together a few like-minded people to give it a shape, draft the aims, objectives, constitution and bylaws for the association before registering it as a non-profit in September 1993 with its Registered Office at Hyderabad. Key persons were Prof R D Lele, the founding president who also wrote India’s first treatise “Computers in Medicine” (Tata McGraw Hill), and the second president, Dr Lazar Mathew, Director, Defense Bioengineering Labs, (DEBEL) Bangalore. Since, its inception, all the Founding Members of IAMI enthusiastically carried out membership drives and they were successful in organizing the first conference, IAMI-95 at Hyderabad with 120 delegates.
Dr Lazar Mathew, organized the second conference, IAMI-1997, in Bangalore at the Indian Institute of Science, with full support by Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and the Indian Institute of Science. Prof (Dr) NG Rao became the 3rd President, in 1999. IAMI-2001, the third Conference was conducted in New Delhi, by Mr. Atul Bal and Dr Ajay Bal of Protech Ltd, New Delhi, and Prof N. G. Rao was re-elected as President for another term.
Dr. Sanjay Bedi started an on-line newsletter of IAMI which later became a general discussion forum on various matters pertaining to medical informatics. IAMI’s growth subsequently exploded. IAMI got its own web site in 2002 first as a subdomain but later became independent in 2006 as www.iami.org.in. IAMI’s recognition and growth over the next years has been linked to its online presence. However, management difficulties, as well as lack of consistent moderating of the online activities resulted in problems. Dr O P Sharma organized the fourth conference in Chandigarh and became the fourth president. The IAMI office was shifted to Chandigarh when the Hyderabad office no longer acted as caretaker. Dr. S. Sanyal, Vice President IAMI, CMO, Indian Railways, Kolkata, organized a mid-conference in Kolkata (Midcon-2004) in the South-Eastern Railways Hospital in Kolkata in May 2004.
The Indian Journal of Medical Informatics (IJMI) was launched in 2004 with Dr Sanjay Bedi, as its first Editor-in-Chief. He was successful in getting the IJMI indexed (ISSN number 0973-0379). Two further issues were brought out in December 2004 and October 2005. The fifth conference, IAMI-2005, was held in Amritsar under the chairmanship of Dr. Bedi, This conference too was preceded by a daylong CME tutorials on Basics of Computers for students and Linux/Open Source OS for the attending delegates. Also, for the first time anywhere, the conference was webcast with online attendance by 4 persons. Including Diana Schmidt of Germany, who later became a member, The GBM was jointly organized physically as well as online including a remote presentation from Kochi about organizing and planning for IAMI 2007 in Kochi.
Dr. S B Gogia, became president with Dr. S B Bhattacharyya as secretary in 2006 following resignation of the previous team. A fresh beginning was needed to be made due to an incomplete handover. However, since IAMI had already developed roots with a wider and deeper recognition, recovery was quick. The Indian government invited us to join their HIT standards development efforts. Many other offers for joint work came. In 2006 also, the offering of IMIA membership through the kind offices of Vimla Patel, then VP for membership, was most happily accepted.Online discussions through our discussion forums continued on a daily basis with formal topic-of-the month sessions. An IAMI Wiki summarized the discussions, and IAHI (IAMI Academy for Healthcare Informatics) was formed.
IAMI-2007 was held in the Kochi, Kerala in November 2007 with Dr. Ajit N Babu as the Organizing Chair and Dr. S N Sarbadhikari as the Organizing Secretary. Activities now diversified to participating in other clinical meetings. State chapters were formed, especially in New Delhi and Bangalore. An agreement was signed with IIHMR Delhi to create academic content for a Post Graduate Training Program in Health Informatics. Participation in Medinfo 2007 (Brisbane) as well as APAMI 2009 (Hiroshima) also made IAMI better known within IMIA. Dr. S N Sarbadhikari became the Editor-in-Chief of the IJMI and started its online version with Dr. Ajit Babu and Dr. Vasumathi Sriganesh as Associate Editors and Sukhdev Singh as the Executive Editor. ISSN allotted for the online version of IJMI was 0973-9254. Prof. Ted Shortliffe formally inaugurated the online version of IJMI during IAMI-2007 in Kochi.
Collaboration for standards development got an impetus with an invitation for members to join the committee from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) as a Participatory (P) member of ISO TC 215. IAMI members are still the major contributors to the publication and adoption of HIT related ISO standards like 13606, 20514 (EHR), 18308 (Telehealth), 12052 (DICOM) and 80001(Risk Management) and others.
IAMI 2009 was held in Hyderabad, before which some problems related to administrative control timed with the election of new office holders put a crimp on further growth as arguments through online email forums, led to disuinity within IAMI despite a valiant attempt by the next president, Dr S B Bhattacharyya (2010-11) to counter the problems. A monthly newsletter called MINI (Medical Informatics Newspaper (India)) was begun, but only lasted a few months. The constitution was rewritten to overcome challenges in day to day activities.
Dr. Sanjay Bedi was elected president for the term 2012-13 and got off to a good start with IAMI’s next conference in early 2012, It had several new components, such as online submission and review, linking IJMI contents with the conference submission. It also broke new ground with over 280 delegates and awards for best papers.By years- end, IAMI won the bid to host APAMI 2014. IJMI publications became regular, thanks to efforts by a fresh editorial team with Arindam Basu as editor and S B Gogia as associate editor. It received recognition for inclusion in IMSEAR - (Index Medicus of the South East Asia Region).
Mr Susheel Meher became president for 2014-15. Along with Dr S B Gogia, he organized APAMI 2014 in November in New Delhi. With over 400 delegates from 30 countries, it was the most widely attended APAMI meeting yet. Its scientific content was published in a special issue of IJMI print version.
Since 2012 there has been an increasing introduction of Nursing Informatics as well as other HIT professionals into IAMI. A special session and workshop on NI was part of APAMI deliberations. Another interesting session was on technical issues related to the publication of medical journals.
Prof. S N Sarbadhikari was nominated president for the term (2016-17) but resigned 6 months later because of personal reasons. During this period a Connectathon, Interoperability workshop for Health Information Exchange, was successfully held in Bengaluru, in collaboration with HL7 India. A new president – Dr Oommen John has taken over and is working towards increasing visibility for the organization and establishing strategic partnerships to establish a thought leadership position in India and the region.
The total membership of IAMI stands at about 750 at present (2017), with 15 Institutional Members, which include many premier medical institutes in India. A number of IAMI members are on several advisory and taskforce groups for telemedicine and e-Health projects in the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the Department of Information Technology, BIS and other Government of India bodies. India purchased a nationwide license for SNOMED CT from IHTSDO in 2013 and has set up a National Resource Centre (NRC) for the same. Currently, as a part of Digital India initiatives, eHealth is rising in prominence and various activities are being undertaken by the Centre for Health Informatics, which is being registered as an autonomous Institute – the National Centre for Health Informatics. The other eHealth related activities like the formation of the National eHealth Authority (NeHA) and the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP) are also being undertaken by the Ministry of Health and Family Wellfare.
IAMI’s official discussion group is currently . Discussions through WhatsApp groups also take place regularly. Appreciative of the lessons learned through these discussions, there are many new members eager to help and carry forward our vision to making HIT one of the key transformers of India’s health.
In conclusion, IAMI envisions itself as the bridge between Information technologies and Healthcare delivery. IAMI is increasingly being recognized as the thought leader and is regularly consulted by the Government of India for policy advice. We have delivered much, but face problems because all work is voluntary and changes of the entire team every two years contributes to lack of continuity policy of keeping administrative issues separate from academic activities has yet to be successfully implemented. IAMI has revamped its constitution to encourage more long-term involvement of a core group of academics and professionals who will carry the torch of healthcare informatics forward consistently into the future.