Saturday, May 18, 2013

Telemedicine: Going beyond boundaries to provide healthcare

Phantom Talking Drums

One of my many favourite comics as a child was  Phantom, the purple-costumed masked superhero with his faithful four-legged companions Devil the dog and Hero the horse. It was not just his heroism which fascinated me but also some of the common threads which were woven into each adventure – the skull cave, the hero’s rings, etc. One of these fascinating concepts was that of the beating of drums (image courtesy alongside: to convey a message or to summon help. 

In today's contemporary world we don't need those talking drums to get help! We just pick up the phone or send a quick SMS. Then there is online chat & emails, forms of communication which transcend physical space. Using this very idea of transcending physical space and touching lives in unique ways is telemedicine. 

Telemedicine is as fascinating as those talking drums. While those drums were an audio aid, telemedicine combines visual and audio aids to make healthcare easily accessible to those who are neither within reach of a professional nor within the perimeters of medical facilities. This is achieved through the eyes in the sky, namely satellites. Thanks to the unique service of telemedicine, medical records of a patient can be accessed by the medical professional, a diagnosis made, advice given and treatment regularly monitored. Through telemedicine one gets quick & precise clinical assistance.

Reaching beyond boundaries
Credit for the very first rural telemedicine centre in India goes to the ApolloHospitals Group, which established the center at the VSAT enabled secondary care hospital in Aragonda village , Andhra Pradesh. This was achieved through its non-profit organization Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation (ATNF). From that one center 14 years ago, ATNF has expanded to over a hundred all over the country & even abroad. Teleconsultations are provided across over two dozen disciplines through its own app, 'Medintegra WEB'. ATNF ensures that there is no breach of confidentiality & that the patient’s records are kept secure. 

The success of ATNF is obvious by the fact that no less than the Govt. of India has selected their pioneering concept for its Pan African E-Network Project to provide teleconsultation to over 50 countries of the African Union. 

ATNF has not limited itself to only having hospitals of the Apollo Group availing of its Apollo's Telemedicine Network. It welcomes other hospitals, clinics and even independent medical professionals to join the network. This is truly selflessness at its best. (Want to join? Check details here)

Of course, there is a flip side to everything. Would you rather meet a doctor personally or consult through a Sat link? Somehow it is reassuring to meet a doctor in person. A doctor generally has a hearty & positive attitude and you tend to connect when you are face to face in reality rather than merely addressing a visual image so to say. 

Also, can there ever be 100% guarantee of security of one’s medical information? Nevertheless, one should not discount the value of telemedicine for those who are living in inaccessible areas.

To conclude, one sees geographical boundaries on maps, not in reality. Boundaries between countries and those between States of a country may be earmarked by a barbed-wire fence or a wall or by a milestone on the road, but are by and large invisible. Telemedicine goes beyond all these boundaries – the visible as well as the not-so visible ones. Clinical healthcare has reached out to those who need it quickly within the area where they live, within their own "boundaries". 

Thus, by touching lives across miles, telemedicine is, as the Apollo brochure states, "making geography history".
[This blog post is my entry to this Indiblogger contest.]

1 comment:

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