Aragonda in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, a remote hamlet, had marginal health facilities. It had six-seven RMPs (Registered Medical Practitioners) and one primary health centre with one doctor.
This doctor had to cater not only to Aragonda but also to six other hamlets surrounding it as well as the villages of the adjoining Thavanampalle Mandalam. Clinical and laboratory evaluations could be done only in Chittoor (20 km away) and Vellore (65 km away).
However, later on the Apollo group of hospitals chose the village for its pilot telemedicine project .With ISDN and VSAT lines which the Indian Space Research Organisation helped to set up, the village was connected to the Apollo hospitals in Hyderabad and Chennai, bringing tertiary care virtually to the doorsteps of the villagers.
The telemedicine centre was located in a new one-storeyed, 50-bedded hospital built with an initial investment of Rs 2 crore which was equipped with a CT scan, ultrasound and X-ray machine besides medical personnel.
It could facilitate one-to-one interactions between the doctor and specialists located either in the Hyderabad or Chennai group hospitals or 75 other centres of the group across the country and abroad.
In the first year of its implementation, about 18,300 patients visited the hospital. Next year the figure went up to 25,400. We even got follow-up cases from the Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore, Tirupathi, Puthur and even from faraway places like Ananthapur (about 300 km away), said Dr. V Vilmanathan, the paediatrician at the hospital.
Patients with complicated case histories, who would have normally rushed to Chennai and Hyderabad, began to queue up in front of the telemedicine room. With five years of consecutive drought affecting the villages, the farmers were even given psychiatric counselling through telemedicine from remote Chennai.
Significantly, the doctors could even study the echocardiogram and ultrasound data of patients live. We ensured that patients needed to visit superspecialty hospitals just once for surgery.
The telemedicine process involving connectivity between a telemedicine consulting centre (TCC the Aragonda hospital) and a telemedicine specialty centre (TSC a superspecialty hospital in Chennai perhaps) is rather simple. The TCC has medical equipment like CT Scan and Colour Doppler that are interfaced with the telemedicine software. Thus the specialist at the TSC would be able to view the live medical images of the patient.
The consulting centre has a high-end scanner for scanning X-Rays and transmitting to the specialty centre, web camera and video-conferencing equipment for net meetings with the specialists. The connectivity from the TCC to the TSC can be through ISDN, VSAT or a leased line.
For Apollo Group, the Aragonda venture has not been a financial success but its growing popularity is a consolation. Undeterred, the Apollo group wants to extend the telemedicine scheme to many more villages.