Rising costs and dearth of medical personnel have put pressure on public healthcare providers the world-over to explore the possibility of electronic delivery of services across distances and borders in the shortest possible time.
This situation, coupled with the high and fast paced uptake of ICT in India has opened up opportunities for India to become a major outsourcing hub for medical diagnostic and telemedicine services to healthcare facilities both within and outside of India.
'Telemedicine' or as some experts now call it, 'ehealth', is the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to provide medical information and services”. It may be as simple as two health professionals discussing a case over the telephone, or as sophisticated as using satellite technology to broadcast a consultation between providers at two distant locations, using video conferencing equipment.
Despite the opportunity knocking at our doors, there are several problems impeding the growth of telemedicine services by Indian service providers. A recent report by the Planning Commission revealed that the large variation in the quality of medical professionals produced by institutions across the country is a major constraint in receiving recognition from overseas medical authorities; add to this malpractice policies, liability insurance and jurisdiction issues for settling disputes that may arise. These roadblocks need to be removed – beginning in India itself to inspire confidence. Within India, an oft heard complain from ehealth providers is low bandwidth, power shortage and lack of technical support.
The public sector too can ride on this telemedicine wave and drive further innovation by acting as technologically demanding first buyers of new R&D. Adequate ICT infrastructure, would assure improved healthcare delivery, and in turn, better diagnosis, mapping of public health threats, training and sharing of knowledge among health workers and support in primary healthcare.
The latest trend of online personal health records being offered to a tech-savvy populace of the 21st century, only suggests a larger uptake of ideas such as telemedicine, where the patients are in charge of their health data and dictate who can or not access it, without barriers such as geography.
In this Telemedicine special issue, we have tried to present a multi-dimensional perspective of this concept of 'Telemedicine'. The cover story includes an overview of three key telemedicine projects in India