Healthcare services, when delivered remotely through electronic telecommunication, is termed as ‘telemedicine’. The services that are delivered can be in the form of health assessments, consultations or treatments. Telemedicine eliminates the need of the patient to make a visit to the hospital or to the doctor. Previously, telemedicine was used in military situations like wars to order medical supplies or receive medical consultations over the telephone or telegraph. The technology was then used by doctors to reach patients residing in rural areas.
Types of Telemedicine:
Telemedicine can be categorised into interactive, remote patient monitoring, and store-and-forward. In the first type i.e, interactive telemedicine, patients and doctors can communicate on a real-time basis. It usually involves telephonic conversations or video conferencing conducted either at the patient’s house or a medical facility located in the vicinity.
In remote patient monitoring type of telemedicine, patients affected by chronic diseases can be monitored while they are in their homes, through a mobile medical gadget. The gadget will collect patient data such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and other vital signs. Doctors can review and evaluate the data instantly.
In the third type of telemedicine, store-and-forward also termed as asynchronous telemedicine, patients can share their medical information including lab results with a doctor at another location.
How can Telemedicine help?
Telemedicine can be employed in a broad range of healthcare requirements, the 3 major ones being:
- Tele-monitoring which offers assistance in disaster management and frequent monitoring for emergency units like ICU, at district hospitals.
- Tele-consultation where local physicians consult medical specialists on critical cases and acquire the line of management.
- Tele-education used for training physicians and paramedics by a superior level speciality hospital.
Benefits of Telemedicine:
Telemedicine offers an advantage for both patients and healthcare providers alike. For patients, it offers the convenience of not having to spend time or money on travel to visit a doctor. For healthcare providers, it cuts down on the cancellations or no-shows on doctor appointments. The other benefits that telemedicine offers are given below:
- Patients can get access to the expertise of specialist doctors without having to make a visit.
- Healthcare providers can reach out to people in rural, semi-rural, and remote areas who otherwise have no access to quality healthcare facilities.
- Offers timely consultations without the need to visit a hospital.
- Periodic education of doctors through video conferencing.
- Telemedicine facility can be availed without any referral.
- Reduced bed occupancy in hospitals since medical services can be delivered electronically.
- Minimised visits of terminally ill patients to the hospitals.
- Curbs the need to create the physical infrastructure required to render superior medical services.
- Telemedicine is cost-effective as patients in rural areas do not have to travel long distances to receive quality medical facilities.
Telemedicine in Karnataka:
Karnataka introduced the Telemedicine Network Project in 2001 and the project was initiated by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The first phase of the project was rolled out in the district hospitals of Mandya, Chitradurga, Chamarajnagar, Tumkur, Chikmagalur, Karwar, Shimoga, and Gadag. At the taluk level, hospitals offering telemedicine services during the first phase were Sagara, Maddur, and Yadgir. Expert medical advice was given by specialists from St. John’s Medical College and Hospital, NIMHANS, Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology, Narayana Hrudayalaya, in Bangalore while from Mysore, it was JSS hospital that offered the service.
Under the telemedicine project, hospitals in remote locations are connected to super-speciality hospitals from major cities via INSAT satellites thereby establishing a link between the patients and the specialised medical experts. The telemedicine system is a customised software that is integrated with the computer hardware and diagnostic instruments which in turn is joined to the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) at every location. The specialist doctors are sent a copy of the patient’s medical history to aid them while offering diagnosis and treatment. At the moment, telemedicine services are using the broadband facility to function since the VSAT provided by ISRO has failed to offer connectivity.
Narayana Hrudayalaya, a heart care super-speciality hospital, has offered telemedicine consultations (tele-cardiology) to more than 2,000 patients while the total number of patients who have benefitted from the telemedicine facility was recorded at 34,624 during the year 2013-14. During the second phase of the project, telemedicine centres were established at the district hospitals of Belgaum, Kolar, Madikeri, Bellary, Davangere, Dharwad, Udupi, Gulbarga, Raichur, GH Lingasagur, and Bijapura. Currently, telemedicine services are offered by 27 government hospitals, 8 private hospitals, 14 specialist hospitals, and 2 mobile clinics. The major hospitals providing these services are Chamarajanagar district hospital and Vivekananda Memorial Hospital, Mysore.
The telemedicine project in Karnataka is coordinated by the Karnataka State Remote Sensing Applications Centre (KSRSAC) which uses the Indian Remote Sensing Satellite for monitoring and managing resources.