Tomorrow, a link between government hospitals in Tripura and Bengaluru will come alive.
A link that will help patients at any of these hospitals get their X-rays read by a radiologist located in a different part of the country, thanks to an arrangement facilitated by Bengaluru-based Teleradiology Solutions.
The first phase of this tele-radiology project involving 13 of 20 hospitals will go live on October 15 and the rest by mid-November, says Arjun Kalyanpur, Founder and Chief Executive of TRS, a healthcare firm in the tele-diagnostics space. The 14-year-old company has been doing similar work with hospitals in the US. But the Tripura partnership is its first full-scale government project, he says.
The importance of this remote diagnosis is best understood when exposed to the uncomfortable truth that India has only about 10,000 radiologists. This means the doctor-to-patient ratio is 1:1,00,000. And if the shortage is worrisome, it gets worse, says Kalyanpur. It takes about eight-and-half years to train a radiologist.
The role of a radiologist is critical, as X-rays and CT/MRI scans are important in the diagnosis of an illness and treatment depends on reading these images right.
And as imaging equipment gets more sophisticated, so does the workload of the radiologist, says Kalyanpur. Earlier a CT scan consisted of 100 images, but today it can have 500 to 1,000 images, which means more time and effort of the radiologist, he explains, emphasising the need for continuous education. The task becomes more complex when a sub-speciality expertise is required, as seen in the case of a brain-related condition in a child, for example.
Though tele-medicine as a concept has been around for some time now, tele-radiology (with its already available digital footprint) has been its most successful example yet, says Kalyanpur.
TRS has worked with American hospitals on after-hour emergencies. The arrangement works as the emergency hours are covered for the hospital and the radiologist turnaround time in reading the image and sending back a report is 15-30 minutes, says Kalyanpur. (The firm has about 50 radiologists based in the US, the UK, Singapore and India.)
In fact, says Kalyanpur, tele-radiology results are more accurate than a hospital setting, as the radiologist is more focussed and not interrupted.
The Tripura project, company officials hope, will be the first of more such engagements with State governments. In fact, Kalyanpur recalls another remote project they did for a hospital in Itanagar (Arunachal Pradesh) that had a CT and an MRI equipment but no radiologist to read reports. Having provided the tele-radiology support for the hospital, Kalyanpur says, it was his “most satisfying project”.