The role of information technology in designs of healthcare trade

Ajeet Mathur
September 2003

Information Technology (IT) is poised to revolutionise healthcare trade through
new thresholds in human connectivity. This paper focuses on the expanding role of IT in
three distinct but related categories: (a) design and development of healthcare products and
services, (b) delivery systems, and, (c) healthcare administration. Through information
power that IT enables, capacities of decision-makers are continually transformed in how
they link with each other, in the here and now. This not only promotes conventional trade
in services and e-commerce and facilitates worldwide convergence in several aspects of
healthcare management and organisation. However, this process also raises fears and
anxieties because the pervasive nature of IT and its uneven diffusion increase some
vulnerabilities where policy safeguards would be needed. The process of IT diffusion
occurs at many different points of impact in the international economy. Thus, policy
choices have to cater to a wide range of national and regional needs and circumstances
concerning rights to health, rights to trade and rights to development. National policies and
international regimes need to strike a harmonious balance between these sets of rights.
The persistence of unresolved conflicts of rights and conflicts of interests point to
the need for new international arrangements to be mandated and resourced. The extent to
which this can be achieved is uncertain. This uncertainty is traceable to the ways
responsibility for healthcare, authority to design healthcare products and systems, and the
power to organise healthcare delivery remain separate or come together. The restructuring
of private investments to integrate IT with life sciences in public-private partnerships is a
sign of the growing significance of IT in healthcare. It is also a reminder of how powerfully
IT could be harnessed in pursuit of millenium development goals.