Affordable telemedicine: Bridging the rural-urban divide in healthcare

Telemedicine will be the highlight of 2018 as it has the potential to take quality healthcare to remote and inhospitable terrains across the country.

IDG STAFF Jan 09th 2018 A-A+

Telemedicine has the potential to revolutionize healthcare in a country like India where a majority of the population lives in rural areas that do not have adequate healthcare infrastructure or expertise. But the challenge lies in making it available in remote areas that have little or no connectivity.


Satellite tech for telemedicine

Already Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been able to deliver telemedicine in remote areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well as tribal areas of seven northeastern states.  They are connected with 22 super specialty hospitals to serve these areas where it takes a lot longer to get any medical help. ISRO has connected as many as 78 remote hospitals in rural regions through its geo satellite.

Two of the biggest opportunities that telemedicine will create will be in the areas of healthcare education and training and healthcare management.

The results have encouraged medical professionals to use the facility to ensure that patients in these areas get prompt treatment. The HealthSAT has been successful in extending healthcare to the poor who are otherwise unable to access specialty care. This will eventually ensure that healthcare delivery in such areas is done in real-time and prescription is dispensed from available inventory.


Telemedicine apparatus

A small facility requires a desktop, medical software, diagnostic equipment like x-ray machines, scanners for imaging, blood reporting and results. These are connected to the satellite. Specialized doctors diagnose the patient from a remote location. Even a communication link is established to discuss the course of treatment with the help of local doctors.

The system is user-friendly and a lifesaver for the poor. It is also highly cost effective and time saving. The maintenance of the equipment is done by technicians and it is operated by local doctors.


Opportunities for new market players

Two of the biggest opportunities that telemedicine will create will be in the areas of healthcare education and training and healthcare management.

While urban areas have an integrated healthcare system, it is the hinterlands that the technology industry is yet to focus on. Providing education and training will also generate employment to millions while contributing to spreading awareness of healthcare among the rural populace. A developing country like India offers a chance to several market players in this sector to innovate on systems to provide better healthcare. As the digital revolution continues, mobility will play a key role in applications like video conferencing.

Linking doctors from remote areas and treating patients will boost the health index. Already, a few successful electronic medical record software applications exist. They can easily be customized for professionals and patients. Medical records can be retrieved when a patient turns up for the next visit. The software ensures the safety of ECG images, medical records right from the beginning to later times when a patient is treated.

The process of real-time synchronization with store and forward telemedicine will become the key to health management. It involves a simple phone call from the mobile number. The technology of video link will connect the doctor and patient on a common platform without disruption.

Assessments of the medical record/data (pathological reports, radiology, and dermatology results) is done offline. In such a case, both doctor and patient are not required. Nearly 70 percent of Indians live in inhospitable terrains. If they get quality healthcare they can benefit immensely from telemedicine.