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Talks on tele-health centres across Bengal
- Apollo Gleneagles, Isro and state in tie-up mode

Apollo Gleneagles Hospitals (AGH) is set to enter into a collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and the West Bengal government for setting up advanced tele-medicine centres in all parts of the state. Calcutta will be the hub for eastern India. “We have already submitted the proposal to the state government,” V. Satyanarayana Reddy, AGH Calcutta chief executive officer (CEO), told Metro on Friday.

By the proposal, Isro will provide free satellite equipment and connectivity, while the state government will provide accommodation, with facilities like electricity, telephone, air-conditioning and other infrastructure, Reddy said.

AGH will provide turnkey solutions, including computers, tele-medicine software, video consultancy equipment and training to professionals, he elaborated. “We think it is a revolutionary approach to treatment, provided patients use the facility,” Reddy added.

“We have received the proposal,” admitted health secretary Asim Barman, adding that the government was looking into it. “We will be in a position to revert to them next week,” he said.

Elaborating on details of the plan, George Verghese, vice-president (tele-medicine) of Apollo Tele-Medicine Networking Foundation, told this correspondent over a video-conference from Chennai that the project had already been approved by the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

“The project will be operative at three levels. Hospitals at block levels will be connected with district hospitals, which, in turn, will be connected with the medical colleges and AGH,” Verghese explained.

The project, if implemented, will provide tele-medicine facilities for a large number of patients seeking medical consultations and check-ups, with free consultancy for people below the poverty level.

“We have 600 super-specialists enrolled with us for providing tele-healthcare to patients even in the remote areas at a nominal cost,” CEO Reddy said.

According to AGH officials, an ISDN connection is now used for tele-medicine. “However, if a VSAT facility can be used after the tie-up with Isro, the cost can be cut considerably. We are already using VSAT facilities in Delhi, Aragonda village (in Andhra Pradesh) and the Andaman Islands,” an official said.

The hospital already has its own tele-medicine centres in different districts of the state, where a regular flow of patients arrive for tele-medicine consultancies. “We are reaching out to patients through our tele-medicine centres,” an official said. “Patients will not have to rush to doctors at odd hours. It will be easier for them to visit the nearest tele-medicine centre,” he added.

AGH officials claim that with specialist doctors in all fields available at the different branches of the hospital across the country, patients could reap the “actual benefits of tele-medicine.”

According to vice-president Verghese, the tele-medicine concept has been modernised and now can be termed ‘tele-health’. “Tele-medicine meant simply curing diseases. Now, we are doing more than that. Tele-health includes prevention, cure and education. We are using the infrastructure of tele-communication to prevent AIDS and tuberculosis,” he said. Seminars and continuous medical education programmes for doctors and para-military staff are being organised by the Foundation, Verghese said.

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