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Videoconference: A booster dose for health

June 01, 2006 13:30 IST
When oncosurgeon Shailesh Puntambekar was invited by the University of Giessen, Germany to demonstrate 'live' his 'Pune Technique' of surgery of cervical cancer, it was not just an honour of the young surgeon's skills.

It also marked the triumph of the technology of videoconferencing. Similarly, students at the Armed Forces Medical College watched the goings on in the operation theatre of the Command Hospital, thanks to videoconferencing.

Interestingly, the technology that came to India as a tool of live communication for the top level managers and administrators is adding great value to the field of healthcare as both, a driver of telemedicine and as a channel of academic delivery and research.

"The facility has made it possible to demonstrate to the medical practitioners and students new techniques in the areas of medicine, treatment and surgery," says Amol Sane of Deenatha Mangeshkar Hospital.

The hospital recently conducted a videoconferencing session to bring 'live' an ear surgery being performed in France, which was attended by about 50 ENT experts.

It would have been impossible for so many doctors to be there at once, Sane points out, adding that the beauty of the technology lay in its capability to make interactive communication possible. "We have held half a dozen such session so far, and would hold more in future," Sane says.

Providers of videoconferencing equipment too are equally up beat about this new space where the technology is proving its prowess.

According to them, the videoconferencing technology is proving relevant for India for not just live relays of surgery but for the entire spectrum of telemedicine.

Says Ambareesh Dixit, head of planning and marketing for broadcast and personal products at Sony India Pvt Ltd., "The rise in medical tourism, shortage of skilled doctors, requirement of specialists in multi location in specific time frames, imparting knowledge to junior doctors or students and need to reach out to the non urban areas are contributing to the growth of this business," he says.

Yugal Sharma, Country manager for Polycom, believes that the latest changes in the field of information technology and telecommunications has opened a new era for health care in improvement of the quality of health care, better access to the system as well as optimisation of cost effectiveness of certain segments of health care systems.

Sharma says Polycom has provided solutions to a number of hospitals for their telemedicine venture. Among them are Escorts, Narayana Hryudayalaya, Apollo and Tele Vital.

"We have seen large scale deployment wherein thousands of patients located in remote parts of the country benefit from the solution and in time this number is going to multiply, he adds. Sony too has followed the tie-up route and works with Space Hospitals telemedicine project in South India as well as the well known Sankara Nethralaya.

"The demand for videoconferencing equipment from the healthcare sector is rising by about 30 per cent year on year," Dixit says, adding that 20 per cent of the VC equipment Sony sold last year was to this segment.

According to Sharma, "Polycom has major plans to reach out to the masses and create awareness by providing healthcare at affordable costs through telemedicine tie ups with Reliance webworld. Reliance has 256 outlets across the country and small medical organisations located in far flung areas connect to large healthcare centres through Reliance webstores.

This service has hugely been appreciated by the medical fraternity as specialty treatment can be offered at a reasonable cost.

Spurred by the increasing acceptability of the technology, Sony has planned to introduce high definition videoconferencing, as the resolution and colour seen is of utmost importance in this field, Dixit said.

Videoconferencing equipment suitable for the healthcare sector can be used on dedicated telephone lines with speeds above 384 kbps or above and is priced between Rs 2.5 lakh and Rs 7.5 lakh currently, depending upon the features required.

Dileep Athavale in Mumbai/ Pune