Information Technology Revolution in Healthcare

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Dr. Sunil Shroff

Medical Computer Society of India
A-113, Annanagar,
Chennai - 600102

Prof. and Head of the Department
Urology & Renal Transplantation
Sri Ramachandra Medical College
Chennai - 600116

"We did not run fast enough to stay in the same place"
- Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland

The healthcare industry today after twenty five years, since computers started influencing our society, is standing at the threshold of a world of possibilities thrown up by technologies such as Virtual Reality, Cyber surgery, Micro - robotic Surgery and 3D image modeling. It is said that the Internet should be used for the benefit of mankind. Internet pundits have always felt that development and delivery of Medicine will be one area where this medium is likely to have immense benefit to mankind. For e-healthcare and telemedicine to emerge as a viable alternative modality for delivering medical care and expertise there are a few preconditions that are to be met. Some of these are,

  1. Adaptation of Information technology by hospitals especially in terms of networking and Hospital Management systems.
  2. Increasing awareness on IT among medical professionals.
  3. Better Internet access; possibility the advent of broadband in India that can transfer video files faster.
  4. Standardization of various protocols (like DICOM in teleradiology) and acceptance of these protocols by the relevant equipment manufacturers.
  5. Decline in the cost of telemedicine hardware to make it more financially viable.

  6. At present, the major constraint is in terms of the financial viability of e-healthcare initiatives. However there have been several isolated initiatives from various organizations and hospitals for implementation of projects. For example The Indian Space and Research Organization has today 32 telemedicine location in India and is investing heavily to help Indian healthcare to graduate in this technology and then use it for its own purpose in the future to monitor Indian astronauts who undertake journeys in space. Most of the developments in this field are likely to focus around the needs of ISRO. The answer to make projects financially viable also probably lies in pooling together resources by various facilities within a geographic locality and sharing the benefits and revenues thus created. To elaborate on this point, several hospitals within a city like e.g. Salem can share a common Tele-pathology service or Teleradiology service. The benefits of such a pooled service are obvious. Investigations can be viewed by a group of expert consultants. Such a model will reduce the initial project costs and with the patient traffic from several affiliated hospitals can achieve economy of scale and thus reduce costs of trained manpower and material costs and also provide a very efficient and optimal service to the community.

    India is well placed and potentially the ideal location for experimenting with e-healthcare solutions for the following reasons:

    India has best computer Technocrats India has a very skilled medical fraternity private healthcare emerging as a key-player in the country Indian Healthcare spending likely to increase to 200,000 crores by 2012 from present86,0000 crores. Potentially India a very suitable location and resources pumped in this sector now are likely to be of great benefit

    The government has the responsibility for the framing the basic standards guidelines to make use of IT in Healthcare possible. The ICT Ministry has come out with its recommendations by recommending some basic standards.

    Tamil Nadu particularly is well positioned to benefit for the following reasons:

    1. Lowest cost of skilled manpower.
    2. Highly developed healthcare System.
    3. Highest numbers of Hi-tech surgeries like. By-pass surgeries & Transplants.
    4. Large Tamil NRI population.

      A pool of patients from Northeast who regularly frequent Chennai and Vellore for their treatment requirements. These regulars and loyal patients can use Telemedicine facilities effectively.

    5. Three leading institutions for Telemedicine solutions - Apollo, Sri Ramachandra Hospital and Sankar Nethralaya .
    6. Govt. encourages a Public - Private enterprise.
    7. Three large Corporate leading in overseas healthcare contracts - TCS, Cognizant, KJ Medical Transcription unit.
    8. Large number of smaller companies undertaking overseas medical contracts.
    9. Broadband connectivity are being offered and available at a reasonable cost.
    Telemedicine in principle is well suited for countries like India, Africa and South America where there is a large rural based population separated by large distances and needing access to regular medical care of quality. The telephony revolution of nineties of India has linked most of our smaller towns and villages with rest of the world. The railway also has a vast network of fibre-optics cables already laid out on many of its routes. The Space scientist of our country have placed strategic satellites of communication making a broadband network not too difficult to achieve with expenditure of minimum resources, These gateways of communications should be all used to help with the project of telemedicine and hence reduce applications costs. Even subsidies could be incorporated to facilitate telemedicine projects in our country.

    It is the question of bringing together these different agencies and forums to make the revolution of telemedicine happen and to provide our humanity with the best possible medical care. If these experiments work in India over the next decade, the vast population living in developing countries will be the winners and bear the fruit of our success. Internet and Telemedicine should be a used as style of practice of modern medicine rather than be exhibited vulgarly as a technological showcase. Perhaps the slogan "Health for all by 2000" which was forgotten by our politicians towards the end of last century can still be achieved by the year 2020 by making "the Information Technology Revolution happen in healthcare in India.

    (The "Medical Computer Society of India" promotes the use of IT in healthcare including Telemedicine. The goal of the society is to get both computer technocrats and medical professionals on one platform and speak the same language of developments for the healthcare applications. Both doctors and non-doctors are eligible to become members. If you wish to become member of the society please visit the website for details and print the membership form and send it by post. If you experience any problem please contact or write to us at -, A-113 Annanagar, 3rd Avenue, Chennai- 600102.)
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