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ICT Platform for better Rural Healthcare

With many Government initiatives, it can be assumed that IT in Healthcare can fetch miracles to the people living in such remote places

Healthcare is the right of every individual but lack of quality infrastructure, dearth of qualified medical functionaries, and non- access to basic medicines and medical facilities thwarts its reach to 60% of population in India. A majority of 700 million people lives in rural areas where the condition of medical facilities is deplorable. Considering the picture of grim facts there is a dire need of new practices and procedures to ensure that quality and timely Rural-Healthcarehealthcare reaches the deprived corners of the Indian villages.

Healthcare service in the rural areas where more than 70 percent of Indians live, is abhorrently inadequate. It is a dichotomy to see an overwhelming of highly technology based hospitals and dispensaries in urban areas while the rural villages do not even have basic minimum public health facilities. Even within cities the poor do not have access to high tech healthcare facilities because of various reasons, mainly financial limitations.

Many of the public healthcare services like Public Health Centres (PHCs) and sub-centres in rural areas are not even equipped and staffed to provide quality healthcare to the rural poor. The new developments in healthcare have not percolated to the rural areas and this is a matter of great concern.

Rural healthcare in current scenario Though, India is talking about getting digital and boosting about its technology efficiency, still rural population of the country are fighting with the basic needs of ‘roti, kapda aur makaan’, with health brewing up as the major challenge. The public healthcare in rural areas has the challenges like little access to healthcare. When people become ill, low-income households in rural areas continue to use home remedies, consult traditional healers and local providers who are often outside the formal healthcare system. Most of the PHC and Sub  Centres mostly understaffed and short of drugs and essential supplies and that they sometimes suffer from low staff morale and motivation. Providing healthcare services to the poor at a reasonable cost requires a significant amount of subsidy, either through government or non-government source. Moreover, access needs to look into other viable and cost effective alternatives.

While public healthcare system in India has the best professionals and one of the best systems there is a need to explore the ways and means to bring equity in access to health professionals and institutions. And among many ICT in healthcare has come up with the aim of developing healthy and economically productive rural citizenship through facilitating affordable, reliable and high quality health information to the rural poor.

ICT in public health
Information and communication technology has a very important role to play in facilitating quality healthcare to the rural poor in a cost effective manner. With telemedicine we can have access to quality healthcare not only to the rural population living in far flung areas, but also to the people of urban and semi-urban areas. Telemedicine has a tremendous role, a large and very big role in a health care delivery system. This bridges the gap of demand supply mismatch doctor wise – facility wise so that medical relief will be beyond the means of the people. It is the only way to fulfill the constitutional obligation which will not be possible otherwise even within 100 years. It provides vital health statistics and disease indicators which are required for planning and implementing national level health not programmes.

Telemedicine network comprising of trained skilled manpower, even at a remote place, gives the opportunity to the patient to  access specialists and super specialists in the network. Because of the use of technology and availability of easy-to-use and highly reliable biomedical devices in the network, telemedicine is able to bridge the gap of demand and supply mismatch, doctor- wise and facility-wise as it readily provides vital parameters and investigation reports so that the doctor can give advice through tele-consultation to distantly located patients.

The advantages of telemedicine are multifold. It virtually takes doctors to regions where there are no doctors. It has made medical help a reality in areas where no help existed before. Tele pathology, teleradiology, teleophthalmology are some ways of accurately diagnosing diseases from a distance.

In spite of the progress, there is much to be done on the policy front. Even as Government of India has made attempts to set guidelines and standards for telemedicine, the country doesn’t have a proper policy in place. India deserves kudos for setting up the Pan Africa Network and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) telemedicine network, but the public expenditure on health which is counted as one of the lowest globally cannot be ignored. While the Indian medical community and private hospital networks may take pride in country’s medical tourism and rare surgeries that save precious lives, but the fact remains that rural India is prodigiously deprived of this very advantage.

ICT in healthcare can be used:

  • To provide emergency healthcare to the rural poor
  • To ensure safe delivery and motherhood in rural areas
  • To provide access to health information and making healthcare accessible to the poor.
  • To facilitate quality medical care to the poor in remote rural villages.
  • To provide public health safety net to the rural poor.
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