We Need Better Bandwidth For Real-time Telemedicine

New Delhi: | Updated: Dec 23 2002, 05:30am hrs
The need to provide medicine to astronauts in space has been the turning point for the telemedicine sector, says coordinator for government-sponsored telemedicine project Sanjay Sood. The project Development of Telemedicine Technology is under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Dr Sood spoke to eFE on the relevance of telemedicine and how information technology (IT) impacts the healthcare sector. Excerpts:

What do you think is the relevance of telemedicine And, how has the discipline evolved
Telemedicine is all about providing medicine at a distance, specifically through use of IT and communications technologies.

It has evolved from a simple consultation/advice from doctor on a telephone to a telesurgery, wherein the surgeon operates a patient miles away from him. The need for providing medicine to astronauts in space was the turning point for telemedicine.

How does telemedicine fit in the Indian context
Telemedicine is justified in India, mainly for the vast size of the country, isolated communities, low doctor-patient ratio and huge population. Telemedicines key benefits include the quality and speed of treatment, outreach, comfort to the patient and in some cases saving of time and money.

What is the technical infrastructure necessary for implementation of telemedicine What are the costs involved Are the current communications systems sufficient for telemedicine
The foremost requirement in telemedicine is bandwidth. Currently, Indian communications services are not best-suited for all kinds of telemedicine.

We still need to wait for the day when surgeries could be performed remotely. Hence, we need better bandwidth for real-time telemedicine.

But yes, with the bandwidth that we have, we can still have telemedicine setups of the kind called store and forward telemedicine for teleconsultation, rural telemedicine etc. Cost involved is high. But with time, the cost is likely to come down and telemedicine will be a practical option for faster and better treatment.

What are the regulatory and legal issues that need to be sorted out for the success of telemedicine
Legalities involved in treating a patient are crucial. Standardisation of various systems, including the system for payment, are the regulatory issues which need to be resolved.

Speaking of the overall healthcare scenario in India, how does IT help
IT has a lot of scope in Indian healthcare, especially when the load of doctors is increasing with increase in population. We are already much below the World Health Organisation (WHO) norms of doctor to population ratio. IT can quite logically improve the quality, speed and reliability of the healthcare delivery system of the country.

How would you rate the IT investment in the Indian healthcare segment
It is hard to give figures on IT spending. Private hospitals have definitely taken a lead in the application of IT. But, government too has started a few significant projects to increase/ encourage the role of IT in healthcare delivery systems.

Which branches of medical sciences have felt the maximum impact of IT
I would say that IT has played a significant role in all the specialisations. But Radiology, in particular, stands to gain the most from IT.

How have the traditional forms of medicineayurveda, unani and homeopathy coped with the modern system of medicine Do you feel that with the popularity of modern medicine aided by IT, the traditional forms will become redundant
Not really. Alternative forms of medicine have their role and can use IT to their strength.