The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Virtual doctor breaks fresh frontiers

Calcutta and the districts could soon be connected through a network of virtual neonatologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, radiologists and other such super-specialists. Telemedicine, which has already taken life-saving treatment and super-speciality healthcare to far-flung areas via satellite, is poised to break new frontiers and its “real potential” was showcased in a two-day conference over the weekend.

The delegates attending the first live Indian conclave on the medical aspects of telemedicine (ICMAT 2003), held simultaneously in Calcutta and Bangalore, were convinced it can effectively bridge the gap between patients in remote areas and specialised treatment centres. State IT minister Manab Mukherjee inaugurated the Calcutta hub of the conclave, ‘Evidence of Benefits’, at the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences on February 1.

“The virtual doctor is fast emerging a life-saver in rural terrain. We have treated hundreds of patients facing serious abnormalities, like acute myocardial infarction or rhythm problems, through this technology,” said cardiac surgeon Devi Shetty, chairman of Asia Heart Foundation (AHF), which organised the meet.

Shetty, speaking from Narayana Hrudalaya, the Bangalore hub, said that doctors and technicians in remote coronary-care units (CCUs), “with constant support and guidance from specialists in Calcutta and Bangalore”, have promptly identified the problem and provided life-saving therapies.

AHF, a trend-setter in telemedicine and telehealth, has connected district hospitals in Karnataka, West Bengal and the Northeast to its super-speciality centres with support from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and the respective state governments.

Addressing the conclave, Isro chairman K. Kasturirangan said: “A technology becomes successful only when it is accessed and utilised by the masses. Isro is committed to providing necessary technological support for extending V-Sat connectivity to all locations deprived of speciality healthcare facilities.”

In his presentation, ‘Practicalities of Telemedicine’, Kunal Sarkar, consultant cardiac surgeon, RTIICS, explained how the technology can be “effectively used for peer interaction between doctors stationed miles apart, so that patients receive maximum benefits of a pool of expertise”.

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