Friday, April 14, 2006

Telemedicine - Providing Rural India with Quality Healthcare

Dr. Devi Shetty ( renowned cardiologist, India ):

In terms of disease management, there is a 99% possibility that the person who is unwell does not require an operation. If you don't operate you don't need to touch the patient. And if you don't need to touch the patient, you don't need to be there. You can be anywhere, since the decision on healthcare management is based on history and interpretation of images and chemistry … so technically speaking, 99% of health-care problems can be managed by the doctors staying at a remote place—linked by telemedicine.

Telemedicine has been a technological takeaway for the developed countries. Defined as the use of communication networks for the exchange healthcare information to enable clinical care, it is increasingly being viewed as a tool for improving care and enhancing access to healthcare. Countries like India where the majority of the population lives in rural areas, where healthcare facilities are inefficient and inadequate, tools like telemedicine can contribute substantially in bridging the gap between the demand and supply.

India has come a great distance since 1999, when the Ministry of Information Technology launched a pilot project titled 'Development of Telemedicine Technology'. Following are a few programs that have hit headlines in the recent years

1. ''Sanjeevani'' - An integrated telemedicine application launched specifically to cater to the rural Indians, who live in an environment characterized by paucity of qualified doctors, almost non-availability of specialists and specialist care, several patients being serviced by unqualified practitioners, late discovery of ailment and delay in institution of appropriate treatment due also to greater time required for transport to urban/ district healthcare facilities and provision of healthcare by inexperienced primary healthcare service providers

2. HealthSAT project by ISRO ( Indian Space Research Organization ) : A project initiated by ISRO that provides infrastructure for rural areas as well as the communication bandwidth via its dedicated HealthSAT satellite. A telemedicine system in a small health centre consists of a personal computer with customized medical software connected to a few medical diagnostic instruments, such as an ECG or X-ray machine or an X-ray scanner for scanning X-ray photos. Through this computer, digitized versions of patients' medical images and diagnostic details (such as X-ray images and blood test reports) are dispatched to specialist doctors through the satellite-based communication link. The information, in turn, is received at the specialist centre where experienced doctors examine the reports, diagnose, interact with the patients (along with local doctors), and suggest appropriate treatment through video-conferencing.

3. Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation : One of the first groups to venture into the telemedicine arena in India, this group hopes to provide a successful working model of Telemedicine, which self propagates throughout India and into the developing world.

These telemedicine services will save costs in terms of the money that patients would have to spend on travel and accommodation. It is just a matter of time before broadband ushers in another revolution in telemedicine and Indian doctors would be able to perform telesurgeries sitting thousands of kilometers away via a remotely controlled robotic arm as is being already done in developed nations.


Sowmya said...

Nice post!! It is amazing what technology can do.

bharatbook said...

Continual improvement in the field of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) coupled with favorable demographics prevailing in India is predominantly driving the telemedicine market in India. The market receives plenty of government attention which in turn further proves to be a boon for growth. Competition in the market is healthy wherein most of the players are focusing on the rural sections of India.

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