For decades, people in the tribal areas of Gujarat have had to travel hundreds of kilometres to get proper medical treatment. But today telemedicine is giving them access to modern healthcare without undertaking the costly and tiresome journeys.
Five super speciality hospitals in big cities and towns - two in Ahmedabad, and one each in Nadiad, Vadodara and Surat - have been linked with small hospitals in remote areas through the telemedicine network.
Sarva Swastha Abhiyan (SSA), an NGO dedicated to taking quality healthcare to inaccessible areas, has opened 10 centres in the five predominantly tribal areas of Idar, Prantij, Bardoli, Hansot and Mundra that will be connected to the super speciality hospitals through five peripheral hospitals.
Idar and Prantij are in the north, Bardoli and Hansot in the south and Mundra in Kutch - all these involve a travel of anything from 60 to 350 km to Gujarat's principal city of Ahmedabad.
Mukesh Bhagat, head of SSA, told IANS the programme has become popular and till date "there have been 100 medical consultations in the five areas. At this rate, some 200 centres may be operating in the state by the year 2010".
Medical services are being provided in areas like cardiology, neurology, radiology, orthopaedics, pathology and gastroentrology, said Bhagat.
Two more super speciality hospitals in Ahmedabad and five hospitals in Jodhpur, Bhavnagar, Nadiad, Kheralu and Bharuch are expected to join the programme soon.
Bhagat said the system enables a physician or specialist at one site to diagnose patients, give intra-operative assistance, provide therapy or consult with another physician or paramedical personnel at a remote site. This is done with the help of customised medical software integrated with computer hardware and medical diagnostic instruments at each location.
The system facilitates the transfer of real-time images to help communication between a patient and a healthcare professional.
It provides cost-effective solutions for rural areas where the patient now does not have to make costly and tiresome journeys to big cities for treatment.
Bhagat said the programme has been popular and to-date "there have been 100 medical consultations in the five centres".
Across the country there are 140 hospitals that provide access to medical services through the telemedicine network devised by the Indian Space Research Organisation and they operate in Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the northeast region.