Tech shots aid healthcare boom

Updated: Mar 27 2006, 05:30am hrs
Healthcare is an information intensive industry. Being an information-based industry, it can benefit from IT more than perhaps any other industry. Indian healthcare is plagued by a lack of standardisation and accreditation, highlighting the need for information management expertise. IT, a core competence of India as recognised around the globe, facilitates management of information. Moreover, with IT transformation within the setup, healthcare in the country is indeed taking a big leap. Will this great leap take to new strides in the healthcare sector such as telesurgery, teleconsultation, telemedicine, telediagnostics, telejustice, exchange ofviews of experts, etc, all stemming from the roots of ICT revolution

Sounds realistic given the fact that ICT is revolutionising the healthcare industry as well improvising servicesa new paradigm in healthcare. The IT investment for healthcare delivery consists of telemedicine, hospital information system (HIS), IT-related hardware, networking, etc, according Sandeep Sinha and Amey Chandavarkar, senior research analysts, healthcare practice, Frost & Sullivan, India. The total revenue from software in healthcare market was approximately $8.5 million in 2005. The total market revenue is expected to reach $25 million by 2010 with CAGR of 20%. In India, large private hospitals spend around 0.5% to 2% of total budgets on transformation, the analysts add.

Looking at the nature of transformation, hospital spending on hardware, including servers and storage for compliance, is high at about $50 million. Further, WTO negotiations on liberalisation of trade in medical services is facilitating movement of people, encouraging foreign investments, promoting services like telemedicine,medical tourism, etc. Does this mean that the healthcare industry is tuning to IT revolution

IT adoption in healthcare sector is still in its early stages in India, says Jangoo Dalal, senior vice-president, Enterprise, Cisco Systems India.With the launch of Cisco clinical suite and medical grade network, the company is looking forward to educate hospitals and doctors on the benefits of technology in the healthcare sector.

Hospitals are presently employing professional managers in decision-making roles. Various government/state health department have now sizeable amount of budget for health IT. In the near future, many projects from various state governments are expected to be offloaded for bidding and also there will be new models for implementation like fund, built, operate and manage, Mr Dalal points out. He adds, A responsive and resilient healthcare environment can help hospitals/doctors make timely decisions and facilitate better healthcare quality, safety and affordability. Cisco Systems offers two solutions addressing the healthcare sector namely - clinical connection suite and medical grade network.

While the nurse call system enables instant access to nurses viaone-touch dial back using a wireless phone, the on-phone screen tells you who is calling and the patient monitoring system uses wireless phones to receive alerts from patients.

Then, RFID technology is being used to keep track of equipment in the facility. The system continually monitors device locations.

But how does one view the concept of distance in healthcare segment Death of distance is the best way of describing video conferencing, says Yugal Sharma, country manager, Polycom (UK) Ltd.In fact, Polycom VSX 3000 is a fully integrated video conferencing system that doubles as PC display. With its completely integrated display, camera, microphone and speakers, the VSX 3000 delivers TV-like video and near-CD quality audio in a sleek, compact system, he says.

Polycom PVX is one of those software having conferencing capabilities that doctors can use via their PCs and good quality web cams enabling video collaboration with any standard-based video conferencing systems in offices or conference rooms with remote applications. The company has provided solutions to a number of hospitals for their telemedicine venture. Escorts, Narayana Hryudayalaya and Apollo are some of the hospitals that are using Polycoms VC solutions.

The latest changes in the field of information technology and telecommunications has opened a new era for healthcare in improvement of the quality of health care, better access to the system as well as optimization of cost effectiveness of certain segments of health care systems, Mr Sharma adds.

Looking at the results of videoconferencing in terms of data transfer, image quality, time consumption, etc, there are certain issues to be addressed. Though bandwidth was considered as a major pull-string in the rural areas, it is now slowly catching up. Moreover, ISDN is a widely accepted standard for communication allowing a user to configure installations to suit his bandwidth. ISDN networks can be used to deliver multimedia telemedicine conference systems where there is simultaneous use of text, sounds, images, color and motion, Mr Sharma points out.

Talking about the change in working systems in hospitals, it is a bitter truth that the professional egoism had ruled over among the medical and engineering fraternity. However, there is a change in the trend. Now, more and more doctors are coming forward. All corporate hospitals are trying to make the learning curve as flat as possible and showcasing telemedicine as a convenient tool for the doctor, just like a stethoscope. Moreover, fuelling telemedicine, banks are now coming forward to offer loans to doctors to set up telemedicine facilities.

The virtue of telemedicine is not diagnosis, but early diagnosis without which a case could take a fatal turn. Although, telemedicine is not a great money-spinner, it is a great way of reaching out to the masses, given the fact that 80% of the specialists are in the cities. In times to come, we see this technology getting into various applications in different verticals like telemedicine, distance learning and telejustice, Mr Sharma adds.

With the first prominent project on telemedicine starting in Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh, kickstarted by President APJ Abdul Kalam, other hospitals are in the queue to using the ISROs expertise. Further, adding another feather to the cap is Satyams telemedicine facility which was just introduced and is complemented by an online patient information management system supported by Oracles Healthcare Transaction Base (HTB) to serve remote areas along with medical consultation.

The development of this solution is an extension of Oraclessupport to BYR Raju Foundation, a non-profit organisation of Satyam, in its rural development transformation initiatives. This solution complements telemedicine and enables the physician to easily access medical records of patients, Satyam officials pointed out. The Foundation is using telemedicine to provide medical consultation, without the doctor having to physically travel to the villages, Satyam officials add. Meanwhile, medical outsourcing is adding another dimension to the healthcare industry. Outsourcing market is bound to increase a plethora of services forcing in new changes by the industry.