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Chief minister Nitish Kumar inspects the telemedicine facility at Patna Medical College and Hospital on Wednesday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh

Doctors at district hospitals now have a chance of contacting their counterparts in premier health hubs in the city using telemedicine services.

Inaugurating the facility on Thursday, chief minister Nitish Kumar said the service would be made available at all primary health centres, district hospitals and medical college hospitals soon. Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technologies to provide clinical healthcare from a distance.

Keonics, an enterprise of the Karnataka government, has been entrusted with the job of developing the facility under an MoU with the health department inked last year. According to sources, the department would spend Rs 27 crore to develop the whole system.

All the primary health centres (PHCs) and district and medical college hospitals would be provided with a set of machines by Keonics. All the devices would be attached to a software-installed computer to transfer the electronic health records to another computer at another health centre. All the machines, which would be provided at the hospitals, would have a special electronic device to record the test reports.

Speaking on the occasion, Nitish said: “In the first phase, Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH), Indira Gandhi Institute of Cardiology and Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences would be connected with district-level hospitals. In the next phase, the facility would be made available at other government medical college hospitals also. All primary health centres would be connected to the district-level hospitals. Those would then be connected to medical college hospitals. Doctors of primary health centres would not only be able to take suggestions from their counterparts at the district-level hospitals but medicos there, too, would be able to consult specialists at medical college hospitals.”

However, some doctors at PMCH were sceptical about the success of the telemedicine facility. “All departments at the hospital, except at the building in which the telemedicine facility would be available, have generator. What would happen if case of a power failure? Also there is no clarity of sound while using the system. Today (Wednesday), we felt this during the trial. The technical operator, who is writing the prescription on computer on the basis of talks with doctors, is not very competent. He does not understand medical language and was finding it hard to write the prescription even after getting instructions from the doctor concerned,” said a senior doctor of the health hub.

Another doctor said: “Most of the necessary equipment are missing from the operating theatres at PMCH. In many operating theatres, the instruments in use are 15-16 years old. Cotton, syringes — the basic equipment are often missing from the hospital. The state government will achieve nothing even if it develops the telemedicine facility because most of the state-run hospitals, including PMCH, are still facing infrastructure and resource-related crises.”

Former health minister and senior BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Choubey, however, claimed he had already inaugurated the telemedicine service at 79 PHCs and 19 Sadar hospitals on April 28, 2013 at the end of Janswasthya Chetana Yatra in Bhagalpur. “The state government was supposed to start the telemedicine service at the remaining 152 centres by the end of June 2013 but the service couldn’t be started owing to the chief minister’s inaction,” Choubey said.

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