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Connecting Last Miles

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Dr Raj Sarda, Senior Vice- President, Health Management and Research Institute, talks to Ekta Srivastava, ENN, on the subject of telemedicine in rural areas

How have the patients and the healthcare professionals felt about this tele-health programme?
There has been varied response from different locations. In Digwal (Andhra Pradesh) Telemedicine Centre, the response has been very encouraging . On the other hand in Araku Valley, initially patients were not so forth-coming. There were numerous social barriers which stem from tribal cultural beliefs for example in Araku pregnant women are not supposed to leave their village during their pregnancies. HMRI conducted many information, education and communication activities to earn the trust of local communities. Now situation is far better and beneficiaries are readily coming to centre with the help of locally recruited health workers.

How does telemedicine fit into the system’s broader care coordination strategy?
Demographic change, rising incidence of chronic disease and unmet needs for more personalised care are trends that demand a new, integrated approach to healthcare in India. Advanced information and communication technology provides an opportunity to realise care integration, superseding today’s chain of disjoint responses to discrete threats to health. Telemedicine provides specialist expertise in the remotest areas. Electronic Health Record generated after consultation also facilitates better maintenance of patients case history resulting in convenient and accurate follow up.


“Any citizen can call ‘104’ and render medical information and advice, avail counselling services, request directory information, or lodge a service complaint against any public health facility”


How do ASARA telemedicine and clinical initiatives help meet the long-term objectives of high-quality, longitudinal care delivery?
ASARA aims to decrease maternal and neonatal mortality in tribal populated Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh by training community health workers, traditional birth attendants, deploys paramedics and state-of-the-art technology to screen for and monitor risky pregnancies, and connects women with Obstetrician /Gynecologists via video conferencing. Unique Electronic Health Record is maintained for each beneficiary and biometric fingerprinting is used to authenticate patient records and doctor prescriptions. Most of ASARA lab devices are integrated with HMRI’s telemedicine software which decreases manual error in data entry. What role does mobile plays in the healthcare space? There has been a rise in mobile based solutions in various sectors including health. HMRI is already has an experience of operating Health Information Helpline in five states. Any citizen can call ‘104’ and render medical information and advice, avail counselling services, request directory information, or lodge a service complaint against any public health facility. Remote monitoring of patients, Health record Keeping in phones and health related apps are some expected areas of expansion. m-Health space is still nascent and it has a long way to go.

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