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Technology has reduced the burden of disease in rural areas

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Ayush Mishra, Co-Founder and CEO, Tattvan E-Clinics opines that patients who visit telemedicine clinics have a higher rate of being treated successfully than patients in traditional OPDs

Following independence, healthcare in rural India was poor at best and appalling at worst. Communities living in rural India not only didn’t have access to quality healthcare but also lacked access to clean drinking water, proper sanitisation, and medicines. All this was cause for alarm to the country’s early leaders.

Gradually much improved in rural India including the quality of healthcare. Technology made possible the treating of erstwhile deadly diseases and modern medicine flooded the countries hinterland. Life expectancy has increased and child mortality has dropped significantly across India because of technology. If one were to think all is well in rural India however, one would be mistaken. While it is true life expectancy has increased in rural India and almost all children born today are likely to reach adulthood, there is an acute shortage of qualified physicians in rural India even today.

Although the shortage of well-trained doctors poses a challenge, it is being surmounted using technology.

Technology bringing patients and doctors together

Because of technology distances that seemed insurmountable are no longer so. Just because the best doctors practice in large cities no longer means those living in rural areas must travel hundreds of kilometres to see them. There is a quiet revolution underway allowing patients living in rural parts of India to be treated by the best healthcare providers in the world. The technology making this possible is telemedicine.

Telemedicine is perhaps the biggest boon to rural India since the discovery of penicillin. While the technology around which telemedicine is based is commonplace, its application to healthcare is brilliant. Telemedicine allows patients in rural communities to visit a nearby clinic manned by qualified medical staff. At the clinic, OPDs are conducted as doctors practising in reputed urban hospitals examine patients by talking to them and seeing them on a screen. The patients being examined explain their symptoms and doctors perform crucial examinations just as they could if the patient were in front of them.

This is leading to improved treatment outcomes for patients living in rural India. Innumerable diseases that earlier were believed to be a part of life in rural India are being treated. There have been instances where patients suffering from common illnesses like bronchitis were treated for the first time in their 60s thanks to telemedicine. Such patients suffered when the seasons changed yet they didn’t know the cause and had little recourse but to visit a local doctor who was, in fact, a quack. The quack offered partial remedies which alleviated somewhat the patient’s symptoms but didn’t offer complete respite. A simple visit to a telemedicine clinic was all that was needed for a life long illness to dissipate.

Superior treatment outcomes at low cost

Not only are many who suffer from chronic illnesses being treated well in rural India- telemedicine means they pay less than they would to consult a doctor in a nearby city. While an OPD in a nearby city may cost as much as Rs 1000, at a telemedicine clinic it costs only Rs 600. A further advantage of telemedicine is that patients who visit such clinics have a higher rate of being treated successfully than do patients in traditional OPDs. The numbers highlight this well. A patient in a traditional OPD is likely to be treated successfully 60 per cent of the time while one visiting a telemedicine clinic is likely to be treated successfully 70 per cent of the time.

Because of technology, many rural residents suffering from common diseases are now being treated by qualified professionals. Telemedicine is effective because it brings world-class healthcare to rural residents. Its effectiveness is a clear sign that technology has significantly reduced the burden of disease in rural areas and indicates it will continue playing a big part in doing so in the future.

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