May 2007

India’s Tryst with Telemedicine

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Telemedicine can bridge the existing divide in terms of healthcare between the urban and rural India. Thankfully, today telemedicine has become increasingly possible due to  a confluence of ongoing technical advances in multimedia, imaging, computers and information systems, as well as in telecommunications. Telemedicine would enable the population of remote and rural India to avail the facilities and expertise of  big super-specialty hospitals in the metros. The timely diagnosis and advise by specialists would in many cases avoid the aggravation of conditions of patients, thereby saving the lives, money and  time. Succinctly, the advantages that telemedicine can accrue for the population can be manifolds.

Telemedicine, as the name suggests, is the application of communication and information technology for remote consultation and diagnosis of diseases by medical professionals. It is a procedure through which medical services are made available remotely, through a combination of telecommunications, multimedia technologies and medical expertise. India is one of the largest producers of doctors and nurses in the world, and is not far behind in terms of providing science and technology support, required for successfully setting up the stage for telemedicine in India.

Telemedicine is the hope for a common villager for a better access to healthcare. Now it is the duty of the medical professionals, engineers and technologists to spread the awareness among the general population and make this promising venture a success in India. Here we will discuss how telemedicine adoption can help to improve the healthcare conditions of rural and remote population in India and how Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) is contributing in  telemedicine field.

The Indian scenario

Being heralded as one of the several possible solutions to some of the medical dilemmas  facing many developing countries,  telemedicine has already brought a plethora of benefits to the populace of India, especially those living in the rural and remote areas (constituting about 70 percent of India's population). One of the many reasons for the huge potential of telemedicine in India is because  a large chunk of India's rural population doesn't have access(or have very limited access) to even primary healthcare facilities.

We should accept the fact that India has a large population and providing quality healthcare to such a large population is not an easy task. The lack of funds is a major hindrance towards setting up of as many medical facilities as are needed. Specialists are stationed at these limited medical facilities, and patients have to travel to these centers, even to simply get diagnosed. The alternative being that of specialist making periodic visits to the patient. Such approaches are implemented in various rural and other parts of India with mobile clinics, mobile specialty hospitals, etc. However, the response time in either case is generally high. Moreover, in some challenging cases, often doctors and specialists need to consult other specialists to ensure that all aspects of a complication or patient disorder have been taken into consideration.

Besides wastage of precious time(in case of some critical illness every minute can be precious) in commuting to the health centers from remote areas, other important dimension is the financial implication of making visits to a health center or the patient site for a diagnosis. The associated costs of travelling, staying, equipment movement, etc. are high. If the patient  has to travel to the referral facility, not only will it cause him discomfort (the situation is much worse in case the patient is under trauma), it will also cost him time and lots of money.

If the specialist has to travel to the site (which is not generally done), then the cost is much more, as his time is very valuable

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