ICTpost mHealth Bureau
Innovations in telemedicine will “not only result in the substantial reduction of health care disparities, but also in a reduction of health care costs across the country,” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and Louisiana state Sen. Sharon Weston-Broome (D) write in The Hill’s “Congress Blog.”
Many of the health care disparities are caused by a lack of access to care, especially among low-income communities, and telemedicine can help address access barriers. With the widespread expansion of broadband technology, telemedicine is becoming an incredibly effective solution that is providing a new alternative to improve our current health care landscape. Hundreds of applications have already been developed, and countries that have passed telehealth legislation are realizing many of the benefits.
Historically, telehealth hasn’t received the attention that it’s deserved from the Indian government. Centuries of ignorance, suppression, gender and caste discrimination have erected strong cultural barriers to information sharing and dissemination. And yet we say that India lives in her villages. However, it is indeed heartening to note that India is among those developing nations where the progress in e-Health has been encouraging, despite the lacunas. While ICT’s application in Indian health sector still suffers from political apathy at regional and local levels, the positive factor is the commitment towards greater transparency, accountability and streamlining of programme implementation and management at the national level.
Developing countries like India suffer from an extremely high incidence of virulent diseases, which comprises not only the prevalent contagious and communicable diseases, but also an increasing number of chronic diseases related to changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns. Much of the disease burden of low-income countries stems from a number of interrelated factors such as poverty, malnutrition, poor hygiene and living environment, along with gender and caste-based discrimination. Overall, health budgets are extremely low in developing economies, though in terms of disease burden, some 93 percent is borne by them.
The global telehealth market is expected to grow steadily over the next several years and reach $2.5 billion by 2018, according to a report by market research firm Companies & Markets. The global telehealth market was valued at $736 million in 2011.
The report stated that the telehealth market is poised to grow because the technology offers ways to improve clinical care delivery while reducing the need for hospitalizations and emergency department visits.
In 2011, telehealth table devices cost about $350 and the average price of the software was about $75 per unit, according to a Companies & Markets release. The company said such prices indicate that there will be a growing services sector that will pay for devices over time.
Telemedicine can be a global game changer in health care, and policymakers are taking towards eradicating health care disparities.
Popularity of eHealth in India
The growing popularity of e-Health in India is a healthy indication that the country’s development sector has the potential and the necessary technical expertise to set in place such initiatives. India is among the top global exporters of IT products. In that sense, it is much better placed than other developing nations in the world, where the digital divide translates into technological as well as infrastructure divide. The gap in India is not so much in terms of lack of technical knowledge and expertise as in actual infrastructural availability and awareness at the users’ end. Thus we have several highly acclaimed initiatives, but are they in a position to survive and graduate from the status of ‘initiatives’ to viable programme strategies in themselves? Sadly, the answer still is an elusive one.
In the Indian context, the major problems include the poor reach of ICT services in rural areas, poor literacy levels leading to low awareness and utilisation levels, and insufficient infrastructure development.
More than sixty-six thousand villages and habitations in India with population above five hundred are yet to be connected by an all-weather approach road. Fifty-five thousand villages do not have a safe source of water supply. Over a hundred thousand villages in India are yet to be electrified. Even where there is electricity, the power supply is erratic and sparse in nature. More than three hundred and eighty million rural people in India are illiterate, of which 58.5 percent are women. These factors hinder the outreach of and access to ICTs in many of the remote backward regions. email@example.com