Telemedicine: The journey so far…
Major General Dr. A. K. Singh is the president of Telemedicine Society of India of Rajasthan Chapter, India.
It has been a lifetime experience to venture out into the world of Telemedicine post retirement from Army after 2013. The government of Rajasthan restarted the Telemedicine program by designating the Mahatma Gandhi hospital telemedicine centre as the nodal centre for all district hospitals.
The telemedicine team in Mahatma Gandhi hospital started with the Rajasthan government project of connecting to all district hospitals in the state. Our team visited a number of district hospitals and contacted all of them on phone. With lot of Persuasion we have managed to connect to 14 district hospitals.
Telemedicine consultations were sporadic as the workload in the district hospitals is overwhelming. We realised that it would be prudent to reach out to the rural population through NGOs and private clinics. The private clinics and NGOs were more than willing to participate in spreading Telemedicine.
Telemedicine awareness workshops were planned and audience we sought were Gram Panchayat members, lay population and paramedics. Our first workshop was in Chaksu, a small town about 40 kms from Jaipur organised by a NGO. The Gram Panchayat Pradhanalongwith a couple of Sarpanchs from nearby villages attended the workshop. Their queries started when we had a live demonstration of a telemedicine consultation. The enthusiasm shown by the audience motivated the team further. Next stop, after a couple of weeks,was in Roopkabas village in Alwar district.
The crowd that gathered was eager to understand what Telemedicine was. Waiting for connectivity a computer presentation was made. A lot of questions came up and a few villagers sere keen to consult physicians in Mahatama Gandhi Hospital.
As the Internet connectivity could not be established we moved on with a promise that the day the village has proper internet connectivity we will set a Telemedicine node there. Ratangarh, Churu district workshop was organised by Goswami Medicare clinic. The audience had a first experience of telemedicine consultation. Our last workshop was in Rawatsar, Hanumangarh district organised by SafeCare hospital, which has been using telemedicine services for past year or so. Great response from the audience travelling to these rural areas was full of thrilling and anxious moments. At Roopkawas the rains damaged the road and at places our vehicle got stuck. Ratangarh had flash floods with water rising to 3 to 4 feet and coming into the clinic where teleconsultation were taking place. Rawatsar journey was though the desert and spotting chinkaras (deer) in herds was a great sight.
To sum up there was tremendous and wholehearted support from the NGOs and private clinics to set up telemedicine nodes. The rural population was more than willing to use this facility as their out of pocket expenses would be reduced considerably and they would get services of Specialists. The need is for a robust infrastructure in terms of trained manpower, Internet connectivity and willingness of urban hospitals to provide teleconsulations.
Our next venture will be participating in school health using the telemedicine kit as an educational tool.
I thank my team Dr. Dhanajay K Mangal, Dr. Vikas Gaur and Surendra Singh for having participating in these Telemedicine Awareness workshops. It has, indeed, been a journey with lot learnings and to meet the large hearted villagers who look forward to this mode of health care delivery media.