By Dr. Dhruv Joshi
Providing quality healthcare to people in a country like India which has a huge population, and a diverse landscape is a challenge. This challenge is further exacerbated in the case of critical care. In situations where the patient requires immediate medical assistance to save their lives, it is often observed that the lack of proper infrastructure and trained intensivists can come in the way.
The critical care infrastructure in India, especially in the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, along with the rural areas, was put under extreme pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic peak. As the cases rose and patients were rushed to the hospitals for special and immediate care, the healthcare system seemed extremely insufficient to handle the sudden influx.
While Covid-19 was a special scenario, the need for critical care and trained intensivists is utmost in every part of the country if we want to ensure the right to life of all the individuals is protected. If a patient, who requires urgent care, must travel for hours to reach the nearest quality critical care facility, it might be too late and cost them their life.
According to media reports, India has more than 3,00,000 ICU beds but only 5000 intensivists to manage these. Most of these intensivists are in the major urban centres of the country, which shows that a large section of the population still does not have access to intensivists. This has created a huge demand-supply gap in the country which has an expanding population but no quality critical care facilities.
Technology as a solution
While the situation may seem grim, there is a silver lining which has been offered by the new-age technology. Tele-ICU facilities which are bringing together technology and healthcare, are now enabling the intensivists to provide support to people in remote parts of the country. Tele-ICU refers to connecting a critical-care team of nurses, doctors, and intensivists from a distant hospital to the resources of a major, multi-specialty facility with superspecialists available 24/7 via a network of audio-visual and patient surveillance devices. It gives healthcare staff better information and direction as they go about their jobs.
The patient’s essential data can be exchanged with professionals over larger distances, allowing for quick intervention to save lives. Tele-ICU allows for the provision of timely, standardised care to critically ill patients, as well as increased access to intensive care and the efficient use of limited resources to serve a larger percentage of the population. At the same time, this patient data, which is collected and transferred over long distances, is secure and private. This is in tandem with the privacy regulations and protects the interests of the patients.
Hospitals in remote areas can install a Tele-ICU set-up which is then connected to a central unit which has tele-intensivists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who can manage the patients 24×7 and provide assistance whenever needed. Because the Tele-ICU room is fitted with multiple cameras, the patient may be monitored and managed remotely. Patient Management devices are connected to a workstation near the ICU beds at the remote sites to track vital signs, ventilation parameters, and nursing documentation. This gives the tele-intensivist or tele-nurse complete real-time access to clinical data.
This is a pathbreaking technology which is bringing critical healthcare to the patients who did not have access to it before. While building physical infrastructure, training intensivists, and making sure that the trained professionals are distributed across the rural and urban landscape evenly may require huge investment from both government and private players, setting up Tele-ICUs is a quicker and more efficient way of achieving the same goals. This has also been validated through various academic researches in the field of healthcare over the last few years.
As we move forward, India will require a continuous and rapid expansion of critical care facilities to reach more and more people to ensure quality healthcare for all. This means an increase in the number of ICU beds to cater to the growing population which currently stands at approximately 140 crores. These ICU beds may face an acute shortage of staff if we are not able to keep up with the pace. There have been experiments with this technology in India and Tele-ICUs have been made operational in both government and private hospitals. A positive result has also been observed with a decrease in the number of fatalities and better healthcare for the patients. The doctors, nurses present in the hospital and hospital owners have also found immense benefit from this solution across the country.
Tele-ICU is a cost-effective approach for hospitals to provide advanced medical equipment to a larger number of patients without investing in costly infrastructure, hence stretching healthcare resources even further. As a result, more patients are getting prompt, standardised, multi-specialty treatment, and ICU outcomes are getting better. Therefore, a technology like Tele-ICU is the right solution to bridge this massive demand and supply gap of intensivists.
(The author is CEO & Co-Founder, Cloudphysician Healthcare. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)