With telemedicine making strong headway into the health care sector, Army medical specialists have highlighted the significant cost benefits of remotely managing casualties along the country’s northern borders and have recommended greater use of this method.
The costs incurred in telemedicine were compared with the cost of air evacuation. Estimated cost savings achieved in the initial management of casualty by tele-consultation was about Rs 1.46 lakh per case.
A study, undertaken recently by three army doctors, including the Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (Medical), found that 34.2 per cent of casualties could successfully be stabilised on-site using available health care resources with the peripheral hospitals. Each year 18 casualties were managed at the periphery on-site by tele-consultations, averting air transportation efforts.
Air evacuation of casualties from the rugged, mountainous terrain in the northern sector as well as the north-east is an important aspect of management of serious medical cases, whether physical injury or other illness.
Pointing out that the strength of telemedicine is knowledge updation, faster decision-making, improved pre-hospital care and increased confidence in case management, the study observed that reduction in air effort and enhancing remote management of casualties make a substantive case for scaling up telemedicine interventions.
Telemedicine is of immense significance to the Armed Forces as the nature of their jobs and the terrain in which they are deployed makes them vulnerable to injury or illness. At times, immediate evacuation, either by air or road, may not be possible due to weather conditions, operational reasons or enemy activity.
The Armed Forces began its foray into telemedicine soon after the 1999 Kargil conflict, with some medical establishments in forward areas being linked to larger hospitals over data lines. Connectivity and low bandwidth, however, were issues.
In 2005, a pilot project was implemented with the Army Research and Referral Hospital, New Delhi, being connected with hospitals in Srinagar, Udhampur, Kargil, Leh, Partapur and Port Blair.
The Indian Space Research Organisation, too, was roped in at a later stage to execute a project to set up 65 telemedicine centres through satellite communication and dedicated software. More centres have been planned, by the Armed Forces, including linking ships at sea, besides having vehicle-based and man-pack links.
Telemedicine consultation got a fillip during the pandemic period when patients, even in peace stations and cities, were encouraged to interact with doctors through online means.