29 July 2012
It’s around an hour past noon. The waiting hall of the Shri Raghunath Charitable Trust Hospital at Amanga Barabati village of Puri district is still teeming with people. Purna Chandra Behera of Jagannath Bidyadharpur village about five km from the hospital is waiting for his turn, Behera has been suffering from fever that is showing no signs of receding despite treatment. Behera is not waiting at the resident doctor’s cabin but at a room in one corner of the compound. The room has a set of laptops and computer monitors.
As his name is called, Behera steps inside to be ushered to a chair and a headphone immediately pulled on to his ears. He stares at the monitor and comes face to face with the medicine specialist from a top hospital far away in Bhubaneswar. The consultation progresses and Behera’s test reports are electronically transmitted to the specialist. He prescribes medicines and Behera moves out a contended man.
Across increasing number of villages in the interiors of Puri and several other districts, healthcare is being redefined as Telemedicine begins to make inroads bringing speciality care and services to the doorsteps of the people.
The credit goes to K N Bhagat, a medical dropout turned entrepreneur, who is transforming the healthcare sector in the remote and inaccessible rural pockets through the Orisssa Trust of Technical Education and Training (OTTET) Telemedicine Network.
Launched in 2009 with the first centre at Rairakhol in Sambalpur district, the telemedicine network has now more than 60 centres over seven districts. The aim is to establish centres at all the districts covering all the over 51,000 villages of the state by 2015. Implemented with support from the state government and the National Resource Centre for Telemedicine of the Union Health and Family Welfare and IT Ministry, it has roped in top health institutions such as the SGPGIMS, Lucknow, Narayana Hrudayalaya, KIDS Bhubaneswar and a host of other top level hospitals for treatment and consultative services.
For Bhagat, healthcare has always been close to heart, though he had sent shockwaves in his family, when he chose to quit medicine studies and take to entrepreneurship in the seventies. "I was in my final year MBBS at SCB Medical College Cuttack in 1974, when suddenly I felt that I was more cut out for entreprenurship and business. I dropped out without informing my family and delved into supply of medical equipment," he reminisces. The beginning was not without setbacks. He suffered huge loss in his early ventures, but slowly managed to establish himself.
An ardent follower of late Shri Sathya Sai Baba, in the late 1980’s he delved deep into welfare activities for rural folk "under the instructions of Baba". The OTTET Trust was formed by his wife Usha Bhagat in 1993 to provide high quality technical education at vastly lower costs to the youth of the state.
While Telemedicine was still an alien entity across the country, Bhagat took to the idea as early as 2005. Each centre has equipment for measuring different parameters from temperature, weight, heart rate, BP to higher tests as ECG, blood sugar, urine and opthalmological examinations. The reports are electronically transmitted to the specialists and super speciality experts for analysis and advice is given through video conferencing.
The project has caught the eyes of others, pilot projects have been initiated in some other states.
The off–shoot of the expansive programme has been in terms of employment generation. A new breed of rural entrepreneurs is being churned out to establish and run telemedicine centres at the village level.