Telemedicine:Technology, the wealth for health

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By Syed Shoaib :
Hyderabad-based Apollo Hospitals Group will set up 10 telemedicine clinics abroad. At the ‘3rd International Conference on Transforming Healthcare with Information Technology’ on Friday, Group Chairman Prathap C Reddy said the proposed telemedicine clinics would come up in Ghana, Nigeria, Oman and Abu Dhabi, among others.
In the conference, K Ganapathy, president, Telemedicine Society of India, urged the Government of India to allow the private sector into the network of National Knowledge Network (NKN).
Telemedicine Programme is an innovative process of synergising benefits of satellite communication technology and information technology  with biomedical engineering and medical sciences to deliver health care services to remote, distant and under-served regions of the country.
Providing healthcare to India’s over one billion population of which about 75 per cent live in villages, is a formidable task. About 75 per cent of the doctors practice in urban areas and 23 per cent in semi-urban areas. This leaves just 2 per cent of qualified doctors, who are attached to about 23,000 primary health and 3,000 community health centres, to attend to 70 per cent of the population living in villages!
The Hyderabad conference pointed out that 80 per cent of doctors live in urban areas, while 80 per cent of the population lived in rural areas and the challenge was to bridge this gap using technology.
To improve healthcare services in remote parts of the country, the Planning Commission has suggested adopting telemedicine by using software applications such as Skype in its report on health for the 12th Five-Year plan.
According to an article in the Business Standard in April 2012, the Indian telemedicine market is estimated to be $7.5 million and is expected to grow at a rate of around 20 per cent over the next five years. It is estimated that 1.5 lakh people are benefited through telemedicine every year.
In March 2012, Saudi Arabia sought the help of Bangalore’s Narayana Hrudayalaya (cardiac hospital) in setting up a telemedicine centre in Riyadh for providing remote healthcare to its citizens in the desert country.
In the village of Hari Ke Kalan, in Punjab, residents who bicycle to a new health clinic started there, can get an appointment with a physician appearing on a large-screen television beamed over broadband Internet. The clinic, built by a start-up called Healthpoint Services, is one of a network of eight ‘e-health points’ that the for-profit company has built in India as part of a growing effort by entrepreneurs to capitalise on the rapid expansion of cellular and broadband access in the developing parts of the world.
Chakrajmal village, in Bijnor district in Uttar Pradesh, got its first doctor in 2008. He was not based in the village, though. The villagers had access to the doctor via a telemedicine project launched by World Health Partners (WHP) to provide health care services to 1,000 villages in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor, Meerut and Muzaffarnagar districts. Gopi Gopalakrishnan, founder-president of WHP, is replicating this model in Bihar.
Telemedicine is a crucial element in the development of Africa healthcare services, where like other poor nations the ratios of doctors to patients are abysmal. As all towns and villages are accessible by cars, use of telemedicine saves time and lives.
Telemedicine and tele-health have the potential to increase access to care, improve quality of care and decrease costs. For instance, the American Telemedicine Association proposed a legislation that would expand telemedicine and save an estimated $186 million over the next 10 years.
Physicians should get more involved in telemedicine, enterprise software expert and former technology company executive Shahid Shah said on his Health IT Guy blog. And they don’t necessarily need expensive equipment to do so. For example, Shah noted, physicians can use widely available web meeting and online video tools to connect with patients in remote areas.
Availability, affordability and accessibility of healthcare can be bridged big time with the latest technology.

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