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Space Hospitals will take medicine to the hinterland

By Staff Reporter

Telemedicine will allow rural patients to reach specialists

CHENNAI: In India, 80 per cent of all medical professionals are urban-based. They serve only 20 per cent of India's population. Patients in the hinterland often have to travel hundreds of miles and incur prohibitive costs to receive any form of expert opinion for complex medical situations such as heart problems, or cancer.

The launch of telemedicine can save rural Indians time, money and stress when they need the advice of a medical specialist. This has spurred Space Computer Systems to launch their Space Hospitals initiative, the first to work across multiple hospitals to connect rural Indians to specialist doctors in urban centres here and in the United States.

The project uses advanced communication technologies such as satellite Internet and videoconferencing to connect rural medical facilities with the best specialists available.

It addresses the problem of high costs, travel time and emotional trauma associated with receiving care in the rural areas of India.

According to Seema Singh, a public advocate for the state government of New Jersey, and a member of the advisory board for Space Hospitals, "studies have shown that up to 50% of the deaths in rural medical facilities were exacerbated by the lack of specialists for treatment, and the resulting delays in care."

In the model provided by telemedicine, a doctor in a rural area can share medical information with a specialist in order to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis.

Anything from ECG results, to X-Rays can be shared with leading doctors in the field, and both doctors can converse in real time. Currently, seven specialist institutions like the Madras Medical Mission, and MOTS Hospital have established studios to transmit and receive information.

"It will provide affordable care for all patients, and could really help the less fortunate communities in India," said Dr. G. Ravichandran, the CEO of Space Hospitals.

According to him, the costs have been subsidised for this launch, and are on par with the prices rural Indians already pay for real-time care. "And when it comes to the need for certain specialist diagnoses, our process could save people a lot of money."

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