The healthcare sector is in changing mode and has been developing itself at a faster pace. Thanks to technology and remote healthcare services, quality care is now available almost everywhere to a large extent. Moreover, certain parts of the world have been quickly adopting technology for better delivery of services while making it available for each and every citizen of the country. In an exclusive interview with Kartik Sharma and Arpit Gupta of Elets News Network (ENN), Dr Ganesh Narain Saxena, Dean, Mahatma Gandhi University of Medical Sciences & Technology, Jaipur, shared his concerns, plans and opportunities for the country in the adoption of telemedicine as a technology in the healthcare sector
Telemedicine has been lately witnessing a booming phase across India. What is your view in terms of progress of telemedicine in the country?
Telemedicine in India is growing. In fact, most of the states in India today are using telemedicine. Initially, it was the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Department of Space, Government of India, which had taken the initiative to establish a telemedicine centre in almost every state. But now, most of the private hospitals, small clinics and medical personnel are accepting telemedicine as a way of improving medical care.
Moreover, state governments have now allocated funds for expenses towards the telemedicine application in their states. And as part of the initiative, states have established a telemedicine network under which government medical colleges are connected to district headquarter hospitals with the intent to extend the speciality and super-speciality medical care for people residing in different districts. As a result, this telemedicine revolution in India has broadened from government sector to private sector to clinics. In long term, it will play a major role in improving the quality of medical care in India..
One of the recent surveys suggest that there is a shortage of around 5 lakh doctors in India. Do you think telemedicine can replace doctors, especially in the rural areas?
Yes, to some extent. There is a lack of specialists in every hospital. One of the ways to address the challenge of deficiency of specialists is the adoption of the wider application of telemedicine technology.
lemedicine technology. With the assistance of telemedicine:
Specialists working in medical facilities or medical college hospitals can offer advice to the nonspecialist doctors, medical staff and nurses in emergency.
Prompt delivery of advice can be given to the patients of any region under the supervision of experienced medical personnel.
Based on the advice of the specialist, doctors with not much sophisticated infrastructure and advanced technologies can confidently take the responsibility of treating patients.
Today as per the trending telemedicine, not only small check-ups and regular checkups, but also major operations are being conducted on a regular basis. What major challenges and opportunities do you see in this? There are two ways to look into one of the parts of healthcare technology known as tele-presence surgery: Doctors working in different hospitals can operate with the guidance of experts sitting at superspeciality hospitals known as telemonitoring and have great prospects in the future.
Other is telerobotic surgery which is yet to come up in the country, though robotic surgery has been started in the country.
Interestingly, telementoring is something which aims to benefit a lot of medical professionals.
While implementing telemedicine services in the rural areas, a structured business model is an essential key or need. Do you feel this can lead to business efficiency and craft more opportunities?
It has been witnessed that different state governments are actively taking initiatives and implementing telemedicine programmes in their regions, but are unable to reach a large number of masses. Additionally, all citizens of the country cannot avail benefits of telemedicine through government initiatives alone, which ultimately tend to create the need for private sectors, non-government organisations (NGOs), etc. These private sectors can take the responsibility of taking telemedicine to the common masses.
As a result, business models will be required to strategise to support private partners and organisations to implement the telemedicine programmes. In India, there are lot many health associations, as well as authorities who are working for the growth of telemedicine. They are needed to seek and take initiative to develop business models for private partners. This proposal can help private partners to implement telemedicine technology while benefiting common men.
As rightly mentioned by you, government has a bigger role to play in the favour of its countrymen. However, in some areas, both private and government sectors must take few steps equally in favour of the public. In the light of the above, do you feel that private sectors must be open to execute services in the rural areas and they can take it as an opportunity for them?
As such, equal participation of both government and private sectors is a process of transition. The government sector is actively looking towards telemedicine as an emerging opportunity.
Now, the second step should be of involving public-private partnership (PPP), and it should be well known by the partners that the adoption of telemedicine as a service will also add value to their benefits. It’s only then one can move towards structuring a new business model for private party.
Therefore, unless this process of transition moves, we cannot completely depend on the private sector to deliver the telemedicine service. Hence, we should allow it to move from government sector to PPP mode and then purely to private sector.
How you envision the future of telemedicine in India?
It is clear that the future of medicine is telemedicine.
The following measures are needed to ensure wider adoption of the technology telemedicine:
• Telemedicine is needed to grow in a wider way.
• Government has to take responsibility to create its importance among citizens of the country.
• Government has to make budgetary allocations towards telemedicine so that a particular medical technology can find more use in the healthcare delivery system.
Being the apex body in telemedicine in India, how is Telemedicine Society of India creating awareness among people to adopt it as a service?
For its growth, Telemedicine Society of India organises:
• Camps in different regions of the country every year through its states chapter
• Conducts activities in different areas, rural areas and urban areas Moreover, more than the doctors, the paramedical workers should know the benefit of telemedicine, only then the common men will be able take the advantage of telemedicine. Additionally, media should come forward to make professionals, as well as the common men, aware about the benefits of telemedicine.