Can cell phones save lives? Marking a significant shift, Indian healthcare providers are now looking at extending medical services through mobile telephony. This means a cancer patient in a Tamil Nadu district hospital can have the option of consulting a specialist in Kolkata or a heart patient in Meerut can receive treatment from a cardiologist in Bangalore.
Apollo Hospitals - which is already running a telemedicine project - is planning to ramp up its plans of providing medical services through technology like blue tooth enabled glucometers or stethoscopes to send ECG results or sugar test to its panel of doctors. Last week saw the launch of a 46-member strong conglomeration of hospitals, health insurers, and medical service providers under the aegis of NatHealth or the Health Federation of India which among other things plans to provide access to standardized healthcare at reasonable cost.
Notwithstanding challenges like low bandwidth and internet penetration, health professionals feel that there is a huge market (900 million Indian cell phone owners) waiting to be tapped. A recent study conducted by Apollo Hospitals and Georgia State University, Atlanta, gives credence to this belief. The survey found that nearly 28% people in rural areas and 46% in urban areas owned smartphones. Conducted across a sample of 1,866 people spread in five states - Chhattisgarh Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu - it also found that one-third of those interviewed had not undergone a health check-up in five years with 55% saying they were open to accessing medical services through mobile phones.
Dr Ganapathy, Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation president, said, "People should take an increasing role in managing their own health condition." The pilot project will be launched in Aragonda village in Andhra Pradesh and will be followed by a rollout across the country.
NatHealth secretary general Anjan Bose said plans were afoot to change the way medical care was given. "If the doctor will not go to rural areas, we plan to take the patient to the doctor." This has become relatively easy with new technology. Bose said under the aegis of Nat Health, medical professionals will be talking to the Centre and state governments to provide health infrastructure, use technology to provide quicker and accurate diagnosis, link primary healthcare centres with super specialty hospitals among other plans.