ALTHOUGH the young boy looks hale and hearty, he cannot walk. It is with difficulty that his relatives bring him to the Sonam Norbu Memorial Hospital in Leh, Ladakh, situated 11,500 feet (3,450 metres) above sea level. The boy has a congenital problem with his spine, which has been aggravated by a fall. Doctors at the Sonam Norbu Memorial Hospital get in touch with specialists at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi, Kerala, through videoconferencing to decide the further course of treatment.
The telemedicine project pioneered by ISRO makes such consultancy possible. It is one more addition to the impressive list of applications of space technology initiated by ISRO, which includes satellite television, networking of automated teller machines (ATM), satellite telephony and weather forecasting.
Telemedicine involves linking hospitals and health centres in rural or remote areas with speciality hospitals in cities through INSAT-3B. Under Phase I of the pilot projects undertaken by ISRO, 17 rural hospitals have been connected to 10 speciality hospitals. Under Phase II, between 80 and 100 rural/district hospitals will be linked to 15 super speciality hospitals by the end of the year.
ISRO provides the district or rural hospital with a television monitor, computer hardware and specialised software, and medical diagnostic equipment such as the X-ray machine, ECG, MRI scanner and so on. These are linked to very small aperture terminals (VSATs) at each location. The patient's medical records, including X-rays and outputs from medical devices, are transmitted to the specialists well in advance. At the rural hospital, a videoconference is arranged between the specialists in the city and the patient and doctor at the rural end. The specialists provide diagnosis and advise the doctor on the course of treatment to be followed.
"Telemedicine eliminates quacks," said L.S. Sathyamurthy, Director, Business Development, Antrix Corporation Limited (ISRO's commercial wing). He added that telemedicine can be used to impart healthcare education, train nurses to handle emergency cases and general practitioners to handle a patient who has suffered a heart attack. It also helps patients seeking specialist treatment avoid long-distance travel.
On July 3, 2002, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee inaugurated the telemedicine project for Andaman and Nicobar islands. This project links the G.B. Pant Hospital in Port Blair with the Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute in Chennai. The Karnataka Telemedine Project, inaugurated on April 8, 2002, by Chief Minister S.M. Krishna, links the Chamarajnagar District Hospital and the Vivekananda Memorial Hospital, both at Saragur, with the Narayana Hrudayalaya, a super-speciality heart hospital in Bangalore. Narayana Hrudayalaya is also connected with the Tripura Sundari Dsitrict Hospital, Udaipur, south Tripura. Under a memorandum of understanding signed between ISRO and the Apollo Telemedicine Enterprise Limited, the Apollo-SHAR Telemedicine Project was inaugurated in May 2002 to link up Apollo Hospitals in Chennai with ISRO's hospital at Sriharikota.