India’s telemedicine market which has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 20% holds the potential to cross $32 million mark in the next four years (i.e. by 2020) from the current level of over $15 million. But for this efforts need to be made to create an efficient network of Primary Healthcare Centres (PHC) Community Healthcare Centres and Super Speciality Hospitals. This apart, issues vis-à-vis hardware/software requirements, bandwidth and connectivity also need to be fixed.
These are the findings of the study titled Promoting Rural Healthcare: Role of telemedicine,
done by Economic Research Bureau of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India.
Providing quality healthcare to a large segment of population which does not have access to speciality physicians because of factors like geographic limitations or socio-economic conditions is the greatest challenge faced by the healthcare sector in India. Telemedicine bridges this gap between a patient and health specialist. Apart from being cost-effective, telemedicine increases patient satisfaction, improves the clinical outcome and reduces the need for emergency rooms.
“Telemedicine has a huge potential to revolutionise delivery of healthcare, particularly in India where over 68% of population lives in remote and rural areas with poor infrastructural facilities,” says ASSOCHAM Secretary General D.S. Rawat. “But the growth of a sustainable telemedicine network depends upon introduction of legal frameworks, development of national e-health policies, trained human resource and regular funding,” he adds.
ASSOCHAM study highlights certain key factors that have helped people. This includes increase in number of health centres at the national level, though a lot still needs to be done. The study found out that during the 2005-09, the number of sub-centres (first contact point between the primary health care system and the community) across India increased by about 6,300, the number of primary health centres (PHCs) increased by about 1,800 and the number of community health centres increased by 2,000 during this period.
Although the country has made progress in health infrastructure, the improvement has been quite uneven across regions with large-scale inter-state variations. Accessibility to healthcare services is extremely limited in many rural areas.
Jharkhand faces 66% shortage of PHCs, West Bengal has a shortage of 58% while Madhya Pradesh faces a shortage of 42% PHCs.
Bihar faces the highest shortfall of CHCs (91%), Andhra Pradesh (combined with Telangana) and Karnataka both face a shortfall of 41% in CHCs.
On the national level, there still is a shortfall of about 32% CHCs and 23% PHCs in the country.
Apart from this and equally importantly, the rural health-care sector in parts of the country suffers from shortages of well trained health workers; be it specialist doctors, nurses or other health workers.
Shortage of healthcare professionals coupled with rising population has made matters worse.
The population of India has increased by more than 181 million during the past decade (2001-2011). It is expected that by 2030 India will most likely become the most populous country in the world overtaking China as well. The increasing population means that there would invariably be a need for increase in the healthcare facilities.
In spite of the progress that is being made in the health service infrastructure the geographic vastness and diversity of India poses challenges to the healthcare industry, especially in terms of the concentration of world class health facilities.
Most of the well-equipped hospitals are in the urban areas, while rural residents have poor access to medical services. As such there is an urgent need for speeding up the process of building up healthcare infrastructure capacities, especially in the rural areas, reports the study.
Late discovery of ailments, lack of experience in healthcare providers in rural areas and huge amount of time being spent in reaching urban health facilities make rural populace more vulnerable to ailments than their urban counterparts.
In the face of the mounting pressures on healthcare systems new solutions are urgently needed. Governments will be unable to continue to deliver quality services to all of their citizens with existing resources and traditional methods. Not only will they find budgets stretched as demands for healthcare services increase, but, in addition, large numbers of new medical professionals and support staff will need to be added to the sector’s workforce, putting further cost pressures on the healthcare ecosystem.
“The use of technology to deliver health care from a distance, or telemedicine, has been demonstrated as an effective way of overcoming certain barriers to care, particularly for communities located in rural and remote areas,” says Rawat. “It offers the possibility for remote diagnostics as technology will extend the reach of healthcare services and ease the pressure on overburdened systems,” he adds.