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PGI develops a 'virtual psychiatrist'

chandigarh Updated: Jan 11, 2015 22:32 IST
HT Correspondent

Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, has developed a "virtual psychiatrist", which according to the institute will replace the need for a psychiatrist.

After four years of research, combining medical and computer science, the psychiatry department of the PGIMER has developed a net-based computerised application for diagnosis and treatment of common psychiatric disorders in adults and children.

According to Dr Savita Malhotra, head, psychiatry, PGIMER, it is a well-structured, fully automated application with an in-built logical support system that enables users to diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders independently. "It replaces the need for a psychiatrist and serves as a "virtual psychiatrist"instead,"she said calling it a major achievement.

So far the application has been used in more than 2,500 patients. "It has also been subjected to extensive checks by comparing the system diagnosis and treatment plan with that by an expert and qualified psychiatrist for its performance,"she said.

The four-year project entitled "Development and implementation of a model telepsychiatry application for delivering mental health care in remote areas (using a medical knowledge-based decision support system)"started in August 2010. The project was sponsored by the department of science and technology.

The PGIMER was the nodal centre for this project with three peripheral centers at Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar, Uttarakhand and Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh.

The aim of the project was to develop a model for enabling non-specialists, including general physicians and para-professionals, at remote sites to diagnose and treat mental illnesses on their own, with minimal supervision from the nodal centre.

"People with limited experience in treating psychiatric disorders can be trained to use the application after 10-12 hours of training, which is itself conducted over the net,"said Dr Malhotra.

The team at the PGIMER is currently working on refining this application further, as well as extending the project to additional centres in other states. "If these efforts are successful, the application has the potential to be a cost-effective solution for the mental health gap that exists at the national level in India,"she said.

How it works?

The application has two interlinked parts - one for diagnosis and the other for treatment and follow-up of psychiatric disorders. Separate versions for adult and children/adolescents have been developed. The application is available in both English and Hindi.