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Doctor, patient & a virtual venue
- Two-day, two-metro conclave to focus on telemedicine benefits

The first live Indian Conclave on the Medical Aspects of Telemedicine (ICMAT), to be held simultaneously in Calcutta and Bangalore over this weekend, aims to showcase how this technology has created a virtual meeting place for patient and doctor, smashing the traditional barriers of distance and time.

Organised by Asia Heart Foundation (AHF), the “pioneers of telemedicine in the country”, the two-day conclave (February 1 and 2) will focus on the “paradigm shift” towards e-health, providing a forum for discussion on the applications, standards, economics, social and ethical aspects of telemedicine and telehealth.

“We want to share with others our experience in this area — the benefits accrued, lessons learnt and the different components of healthcare that can be addressed by this model,” AHF vice-chairman Alok Roy told reporters at the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences (RTIICS) on Wednesday. The institute will be the Calcutta hub of the live conclave.

More than 150 delegates, from different parts of India and neighbouring countries, are expected to attend the meet, including personnel from information technology, telecom, management studies and healthcare facilities. State IT and environment minister Manab Mukherjee will inaugurate the Calcutta hub of the conclave on Saturday and IT secretary D.P. Patra will address the meet on Sunday.

K. Kasturirangan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a partner of AHF in the Integrated Telemedicine & Telehealth Project, will deliver the keynote address. The conclave will showcase real-life examples of how telemedicine is being “used as a tool for a more equitable distribution of quality healthcare”.

AHF has treated nearly 6,000 patients in remote areas from its 19 critical-care and standalone units linked via satellite since it kicked off its telemedicine project at Siliguri in February, 2001. In its capacity as adviser to the North-eastern Council, the Foundation will set up 68 telemedicine sites in the Northeast.

The centres, to be funded by the Council and the respective state governments, will come up by end-2004. AHF has floated a dedicated company, [email protected], to provide start-up expertise in terms of connectivity, logistics and manpower for such units.

“Even though 75 per cent of our population lives in villages, only 20 per cent of the healthcare infrastructure is available there,” lamented Roy, stressing that telemedicine was the only route to access patients in these rural settings with a grossly inadequate doctor-to-patient ratio.

A detailed study of its satellite healthcare model by AHF has revealed an average saving of Rs 8,960 on each patient, taking into account man-days saved, and expenditure avoided on travel, food, stay and actual cost of treatment. “In a developing country like ours, this is surely the model of the future,” felt AHF chairman Devi Shetty.

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