16 June, 2020

Healthcare on wheels

The Tata Trusts' technology-driven telemedicine clinics take healthcare to remote areas and make it easily accessible and affordable to populations in need

A health check-up being conducted at a telemedicine centre
A health check-up being conducted at a telemedicine centre
A health check-up being conducted at a telemedicine centre
A health check-up being conducted at a telemedicine centre

Rajayya (name changed) skipped his regular medical check-up, much to his wife’s dismay. “It is not easy to travel to a far-off location to consult a qualified doctor,” explains Rajayya, who is a daily wage labourer. “I would lose a day’s income, not to mention having to pay doctor’s fees, lab tests and medicines,” he adds. He’s not the only one reluctant to make the long and often costly trip. With limited access to a qualified doctor/s who provides modern medicine based treatment, or conduct or refer for diagnostic tests at labs in the district, the residents of villages in Krishna District had to travel to town to consult a doctor or to buy medicines, while labs which perform diagnostic tests were available only at district head-quarters.

Doctors’ fees, costly branded medicines and costly tests at the diagnostic laboratory, coupled with the loss of income; all leading to scaled up out of pocket expenses they incur, all these factors leads people to delay their regular check-ups or periodic lab assessments or skip their medication. This was a dangerous situation, especially for people suffering from non-communicable diseases which usually require timely monitoring of vitals and regular treatment to avoid serious health complications. According to National Family Health’s survey data, the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes among the population of the villages in Krishna District is higher than the national and state average.

Accessible, Affordable & Quality care

To address these field level health care related issues, The Tata Trusts have come up with a comprehensive solution by introducing telemedicine services to address the issues for where it’s needed the most – i.e., primary care for citizens of rural and remote locations, as well as striving to provide universal access to primary healthcare. Here, too, the Trusts intervention included in establishing 20 telemedicine centres, one Doctor’s Hub, and one diagnostic laboratory to provide quality primary health care services to the 10,00,000- population of rural Krishna District.

Each telemedicine centre is equipped with a waiting hall, reception and registration desk, pharmacy, sample for lab tests collection room and a consultation room. A mobile medical unit (MMU) equipped with an Accuster portable lab and 3Netra for ophthalmic screening reaches out to remote villages to conduct outpatient clinics as an outreach activity of telemedicine in a camp mode. These initiatives have helped to offer equitable, high-quality, sustainable healthcare services to those in need using affordable technology based health solutions. As a result, patients were able to save 70 per cent of their out-of-pocket medical expenses, which has in turn helped to improve their standards of living.

The gift of health

Easy accessibility to quality health services at clinics has improved the general health of the population in the district. Patients can now avail regular diagnostic check-ups for non-communicable diseases, and they are more likely to adhere to a timely and regular consumption of their prescribed medication. They were offered quality generic medicines, costing more than 70% less than their branded counterparts.

They are now able to consult with qualified doctors and specialists who provides evidence-based care from their own locations using telemedicine technology. Services, which were fragmented earlier, such as consultations, spot diagnostic checks and affordable medicines, are now available under one roof at the telemedicine clinics. Connected medical devices and comprehensive electronic health record maintenance facilitates better follow up, effective management and linkages at all levels of care, all helping better treatment outcomes to patient.

Patients’ savings have also improved considerably. They save approximately Rs300-500 per an episode of illness, apart from savings on travelling and loss of their daily wages. Rajayya, for one, is more than grateful. “It was a nice experience for me to have a consultation on TV,” he says bemusedly. “Due to this clinic, everything is available here itself.”