A private hospital, a for-profit micro-finance company and an information
technology company have joined forces to attempt what state and local
governments have struggled to do for decades - bring quality, affordable
medical treatment to India's hundreds of millions of poor people.
Hospitals, Equitas and HealthNet Global are setting up "telemedicine
centers" in Equitas's 300 offices, mostly in urban slums, which will be
staffed by nurses and stocked with medical testing equipment and a
laptop with video conferencing.
Women who take loans through
Equitas and their families (about 8 million people, the companies
estimate) can schedule a doctor's "visit" at the center, and consult
with an Apollo doctor by video about symptoms and care. The nurse will
measure vital signs like blood pressure and heartbeat, through equipment
that transmits readings directly to the doctor and into a patient's
computerized medical file.
Total cost to the patient: 50 rupees, or about 96 U.S. cents.
project started in December, and so far there are just three
telemedicine centers set up in Equitas offices. The companies involved
don't make a profit. But Rahul Thapan, global head of sales and
marketing at HealthNet, said the companies hope to expand the project
far beyond Equitas customers in the future.
"We are looking at
different types of audiences here, at elderly people who may not be able
to afford health care, for example, and there is a huge potential to go
into semi-urban and rural areas, as well," Mr. Thapan said.
Apollo and HealthNet have started a for-profit virtual doctors' visit
business with telecommunication companies Aircel and Idea Cellular. Some
customers of these telecom providers can schedule a virtual doctor's
appointment, in which a paramedics with a laptop and medical testing
equipment come to their home. The patient is connected via video
conferencing to the doctor. The cost of these visits varies according to
the tests done, but starts at about 300 rupees ($5.74).