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Web Therapy

Madhulika Juneja, 44, was devastated when she was told that her 10-year-old son Naveet had blood cancer. Her family physician in her hometown Amritsar suggested she take him to Delhi for treatment.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2010 23:37 IST
Jaya Shroff Bhalla

Madhulika Juneja, 44, was devastated when she was told that her 10-year-old son Naveet had blood cancer. Her family physician in her hometown Amritsar suggested she take him to Delhi for treatment. But before doing that, he asked her to join an online cancer support forum called Cancer Care India to prepare herself and her son for their battle against his cancer in the months to come.

Juneja went online immediately and remains an active participant. “A private hospital I initially went to gave me an estimate of Rs 10 lakh, with the doctor warning that the cost could go up further depending on Navneet’s response to chemotherapy,” says Juneja.

“While the disease came as a shock, the treatment costs came as a bigger shock. Travel and stay in Delhi would have doubled this cost. I couldn’t raise the money at once and didn’t know what to do.” She got the answer from Cancer Care India’s discussion forum. The convener of the forum, P K Ghosh, who is a cancer survivor for 14 years, helped Madhulika get an appointment with oncologists at Institute Rotary Cancer Hospital, the cancer centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Her son was admitted a day after the appointment.

Online fora have caught the imagination of people faced with conflicting advice from doctors and fear of being taken for a ride for commercial gain. Advice from people in situations similar to their own helps them choose the best way forward.

Delhi resident Chanda Sarma, 28, a call-centre executive, goes to medindia.com for all health-related queries. “I had developed anorexia, which was really beginning to depress me,” says Sarma. “Online discussions helped me chose the right doctor, who not only gave me the right medication for gaining weight in a scientific and healthy way but also helped me fight depression.”

Like her, ad executive Pritha Chawla, 31, got acne and weight-loss advice. “A discussion forum guided me to an ayurveda consultant who gave me a lot of home remedies for my skin and weight problems. The treatment has helped me gain confidence and I regularly consult him,” says Chawla.

Apart from guiding people with undiagnosed and newly diagnosed disorders, some forums also organise seminars, meetings and lectures. “The online tool is definitely the most powerful,” says Ghosh. “Cancer Care India is a national network of 30 cancer support groups. It’s not just meant for people newly-diagnosed with cancer but also survivors, caregivers, professionals and social workers — people can chat, blog, join discussion forum or just get information.”

Alzheimerdiseaseinindia.blogspot.com helps people share and receive information on people living with Alzheimer’s in India. apart from familiarising people with the disease, it provides information and support to caregivers and families, who end up leading very stressful lives.

Among the most unique is Aarogya.com, a trilingual — Marathi, Gujrati and English — health portal that offers discussions on a broad range of topics, from alternative medicine to modern medicine.

Doctors say while the trend has caught on, it’s got a long way to go. “Most fora are either not well organised or poorly advertised. While neurology field is massive, nothing formal exists on support for people with neurological disorders,” says Dr J.D. Mukherjee, head, neurology at Max Hospital, Saket.

Says Dr Mukherjee, “I am one of the doctors on a media panel and am often inundated with online enquiries. I answer the ones I can and the others I forward to my colleagues. This kind of discussion is very efficient.”

Dr Arun Prasad, senior consultant, general surgery at Indraprstha Apollo hospital in Delhi started his own website — surgerytimes.com way back in 1998. “For four years, I only got one query a month... now I answer at least 50 online queries a month, says Dr Prasad.

It’s a win-win situation for both doctors and patients. Apart from queries about new advancements in surgery available, which Dr Prasad answers, many people log in from all over India just to interact with other patients and their families. “In fact, I’ve got all my 500 patients for surgery for excessive palm sweating from this online forum,” says Dr Prasad.