A new telemedicine hub has been made operational near Sheshnag Lake in Jammu and Kashmir this month, taking the count of centres that provide life-saving treatment to people in remote areas of the country to 105.
The treatment and consultation comes at one-tenth the cost as it saves people from covering long distances and spending money on local accommodation during the treatment period.
In hilly areas of J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where there is poor cellphone coverage, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has provided satellite links to connect the telemedicine centres to hospitals in Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar and Puducherry.
Last month, the Union ministry of health signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Isro to expand its telemedicine network to remote places. “The primary focus of such initiatives is to provide health care accessibility in distant areas, rural communities and pilgrimage centres,” said Jitendra Arora, director (eHealth), health ministry.
Having studied the difficulties faced at these sites and the medical needs of those en route to pilgrimage centres, it has been decided that the initial tele-health services will be made operational in the field of medicine, orthopaedics, respiratory and cardiology disciplines. The facility will also take care of shortage of doctors in these areas. “Pilgrimages usually happen during a fixed period, and considering the shortage of doctors in remote areas, the facility will come handy to the local people as well,” said Arora.
All established telemedicine nodes consist of a VSAT system, videoconferencing equipment and telemedicine software along with diagnostic instruments, such as the ECG machine and an X-ray scanner. Staff at these nodes will examine the patients’ basic details, register them for consultation and take their vital stats and send the data to the specialist node via satellite. The doctor at the specialist node will then examine the case after which a tele-consultation appointment will be scheduled at the patient node.
During tele-consultation, a doctor can ask paramedic staff to recheck the vital stats, which will then be transmitted in real time to the specialist node. The specialist will provide the diagnosis/instructions via telemedicine software.
Some states have also individually tied up with private players under the public-private-partnership (PPP) model. “Himachal has tied up with the Apollo Group and they have nodes running successfully in Lahaul and Spiti. They consult their own specialists and the model is working fine,” said Arora.
The ministry also plans to restore some of the nodes that had shut shop over time. “Close to 400 nodes were initially planned but only about 100 could be sustained. Now that telemedicine facilities are picking pace, it would be wise to revive as many as possible,” he said.
The facility is also useful in training medical students and doctors. “As part of our tele-education project, we intend to connect 41 medical colleges across India so that medical students can have access to specialist lectures in top medical institutes, such as AIIMS in Delhi or PGI Chandigarh,” Arora said.