Doctor shortage makes hospitals offer long distance intensive care

BACKinsidA Doctor at Fortis Healthcare Delhi hospital, who was tracking a wall of monitors showing vital signs of ICU patients miles away, found a patient’s oxygen flow had stopped, so he speedily issued a set of instructions and stopped the patient from suffering brain damage or death.

The long distance saviour was part of a system whereby the shortage of critical care doctors is covered by the remote management of IC Units around the country, and shortly in Bangladesh as well.

India has just 7 doctors for every 10,000 people, that is half the global average according to the WHO. The Indian Medical Association says the country needs over 50,000 critical care specialists, but has just 8,350. The public health system is ill equipped to provide critical care as finding private healthcare increases and the public health system is in bad shape.

The Apollo Hospitals Enterprise and Fortis intend to expand their network of electronic intensive care units (eICUs), thanks to advances in communications technology. Apollo that monitors patients in 6 states from its eICU in Hyderabad plans to open 3 new centres to track 1000 more patients. They also intend to extend the service to government hospitals.

Fortis tracks 350 patients from its Delhi centre and will start 2 more eICUs by mid 2017. The director of Fortis eICU unit said they save some 25 lives a month.

They charge $10 to $30 a day for the remote monitoring and the revenues are shared between hospitals and companies that have developed the tracking software. Regrettably the access to the remote specialised healthcare is available only to those who can afford it.