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`Telemedicine can bridge the healthcare divide'

Our Bureau

Chennai , Nov. 3

THE paradox of healthcare in India is that it is not accessible to almost 80 per cent of the population while the remaining 20 per cent are treated at hospitals that can be counted among the world's best.

Dr Alok Roy, Chairman, Healthcare Sub-Committee, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) - Southern Region, and Managing Director, Family Health Plan Ltd, an Apollo Group Enterprise, said that a number of patients from the neighbouring countries have started coming to India for health care, because of the high quality and low cost involved.

He said that an open-heart surgery would cost anywhere between $34,000 and $70,000 in the UK, and about $1,50,000 in the US. The cost of similar treatment in India would be anything from $3,000 to $10,000. With the numbers of patients increasing this would make the healthcare sector a major driver of the economy, he said.

On the other hand, a major cause for death in India is the lack of adequate healthcare. Dr Roy said that this situation requires some out-of-the-box thinking, like telemedicine, as putting up more hospital beds and clinics are obviously not the answer.

Another problem is that there are not enough specialist doctors in rural areas. He said, for instance, Chennai has 57 neurosurgeons while all the eight northeastern States put together have just three. Telemedicine - doctors advising treatment over the video - will help a general practitioner in a remote area to hook up with an expert in a more advanced urban centre. The virtual clinic is the only way out, he said.

The Karnataka Government has come out with group insurance schemes for the police force and the farmers "which enables them to be treated at the best hospitals", Dr Roy said. Family Health Plan has also approached the Tamil Nadu Government with a similar proposal for the Tamil Nadu Corporation for the Development of Women.

The CII is also planning to come up with a system of accreditation for hospitals and are in talks with Crisil and ICRA, he said.

Dr Roy said that the CII is organising a series of healthcare conferences for its members on awareness of preventive oncology (or preventing cancer) and telemedicine. The programme will be held in Chennai on November 12.

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