Telemedicine is considered to be the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology, thereby providing substantial healthcare to low-income regions. The earliest published record of telemedicine is in the first half of the 20th century when ECG was transmitted over telephone lines. From then to today, telemedicine has come a long way in terms of both healthcare delivery and technology. A major role in this was played by NASA and ISRO. The setting up of the National TelemedicineTaskforce by the Health Ministry of India, in 2005, paved the way for the success of various projects like the ICMR‑AROGYASREE, NeHA and VRCs. Telemedicine also helps family physicians by giving them easy access to specialty doctors and helping them in close monitoring of patients. Different types of telemedicine services like store and forward, real‑time and remote or self‑monitoring provide various educational, healthcare delivery and management, disease screening, and disaster management services all over the globe. Even though telemedicine cannot be a solution to all the problems, it can surely help decrease the burden of the healthcare system to a large extent.
TELEMEDICINE IN INDIA
India is a large nation with a population of more than 121crores of sundry people. Due to this fact, the equitable distribution of healthcare services has proven to be a major goal in public health management time and again. Adding to this is the recent trend of concentration of healthcare facilities to the cities and towns (including 75% of the population of doctors), away from rural India, where 68.84% of the national population live. ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) made a modest beginning in telemedicine in India with a Telemedicine Pilot Project in 2001, linking Chennai’s Apollo Hospital with the Apollo Rural Hospital at Aragonda village in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Initiatives are taken by ISRO, Department of Information Technology (DIT), Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the state governments
played a vital role in the development of telemedicine services in India.
A few noteworthy examples of the successfully established telemedicine services in India include mammography services at Sri Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi; oncology at Regional cancer center, Trivandrum; surgical services at Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, School of Telemedicine and Biomedical Informatics, and many more. Telemedicine also finds its use in places where large populations occasionally/periodically gather at a point of time, where the provision of medical care becomes the need of the hour; for example, the Government of Uttar Pradesh practices telemedicine during Maha Kumbhamelas.
APPLICATIONS OF TELEMEDICINE
•Providing long-distance education programs over video-conferencing.
•Online webinars and workshops between doctors for discussion of the advancing medical practices.
•Evaluation of medical trainees through video conferencing.
• Nurses in school can seek expert opinion form RMP’s on any emergency situation which may arise.
•Inmates in prison can be treated without any risk or danger to the doctor himself.
•Helps in providing immediate on-site help to the shipping and transport companies, allowing them to continue their operations smoothly while they cater to the health of the employees.
•Remote assistance to the physicians and doctors in rural areas from specialists in the field.
•Tele-consultations and Tele-follow ups.
•Cater to the needs of the patients even when the doctor is not physically available in the station.
•Continuous monitoring of the patients even while they are at home via cameras.
•Diagnostic services like teleradiology and tele-endoscopy
•Checking of reports and prescription of medicine is made easy without causing discomfort to the patient.
•In disastrous situations, where certain regions have been declared as contamination zones, telemedicine can be used to ease the pressure off the people and provide them medical assistance.
•Online screening of diseases.
Telemedicine cannot be the answer to all problems, but it can be very important in addressing a vast range of problems. Services like telehealth, tele‑education and tele‑home healthcare are proving to be wonders in the field of healthcare. The importance of satellite communications is emphasized in the field of disaster management when all terrestrial modes of communication are
disrupted. International telemedicine initiatives are bringing the world closer and distance is no longer a barrier in attainment of quality healthcare. Despite having so much potential still,
telemedicine has not attained the ‘boom’ which it was meant to create. Lack of awareness and acceptance of new technology both by the public and the professionals are holding it back.
Governments are now starting to take a keen interest in developing telemedicine practices resulting in a slow but steady rise in its utilization in public health. Hopefully, in a few years, telemedicine practices will reach their true potential.