The Hindu Articles - CHENNAI,July 18, 2011

The Hindu

K. Selvakumar, chairman, Tele medicine at Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre interacts with doctors from Manipur at a tele-medicine session. Photo: S.S. Kumar

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Advice sought on cardiology, neurology and nephrology during tele-consultation

Over the last few years, many hospitals in the city have been experimenting with the concept of telemedicine to reach patients, who do not have easy access to healthcare, and also to provide medical expertise to people in different places.

While many of these programmes have become dysfunctional over the years, there is a strong belief that rather than consultation, it is the academic part of it - videoconferencing and telecast of continuing medical education - which is gaining momentum.

Tele-consultations also work fine with follow-ups, especially because the patient has seen the doctor and is comfortable with him, says K. Selvakumar, head, Neuro surgery and chairman, Telemedicine, Sri Ramachandra University, as he gets ready to address doctors in Manipur.

Video cameras, the ISDN lines and audio work in tandem, as the doctors exchange an array of medical reports and opinions on difficult surgeries and cases. Guwahati, Silguri and Dindigul are among places where the SRU provides consultation, while many other medical institutions receive telecasts of academic programmes here.

Advice is sought on cardiology, neurology and nephrology during tele-consultation, says Dr. Selvakumar. The ongoing pan-Africa programme in the SRU has around four sessions a week that focus on the exchange of academic medical insights. “There are consultations on sports medicine and neurology too.”

While 80 per cent of health infrastructure is concentrated in urban areas, 70 per cent of our population is in villages and considering the lack of penetration of specialist treatment, telemedicine seems the best option, say doctors.

But “most patients prefer coming over in person, and sometimes the doctor is not confident about the competency of the patient in expressing his problem,” says Arvind Krishnamurthy, consultant surgical oncologist, Cancer Institute. Training resource persons is important, he adds. The tie -up between Apollo Hospitals and Anna University is a step towards facilitating regular training of medical and para-medical students.

Infrastructure is as important as medical expertise, but even when one is well-equipped, technical glitches can occur especially if the other place receives unpredictable rainfall, explains Satheesh Kumar, an engineer at the telemedicine centre, SRU. The telemedicine facility at Government Hospital, Royapettah, which was started a few years ago, basically dealt with transmission of educational programmes is dysfunctional now. “The contract with the infrastructure provider was not renewed again,” says a senior doctor at the hospital.

There are medico-legal aspects that need resolution too especially with regard to permitting digital signatures and assuring medical images belong to a specific format, say doctors.

While most specialty hospitals have a professional team of technical experts facilitating interactions with doctors on appointment, city-based medical portals are on rise too. For instance, ‘Chennaidoctors' provides a comprehensive list of doctors and surgeons in various speciality areas. “It is basically to help people know the doctors, hospitals and medical services in their neighbourhood. Also, with the profiles of doctors, it makes it easier for patients to know which doctor would help them better. It also works well with people who seek second opinions,” says C. Sankarrabharathi, paediatric surgeon.

As health and wellness have become a concern for all, ‘' offers online consultations where the patient can submit a form online directed at specific doctors addressing queries. “Besides queries on wellness, we get questions on diet and nutrition,” says Ramar V., a content manager with ‘,' a portal that offers a basic free health check-up, and has a repository of health news reports.