The Experiment: E-Medicine in Rural GujaratPrerna Srivastava
Under the auspices of its “e-gram” initiative, which intends to connect all villages through broadband, the Gujarat government has launched an e-medicine scheme for rural areas. The objective of the scheme is to “offer online and telemedicine facilities to villagers,” specifically through the installation of web cameras and other infrastructure.
Said Health Minister Jay Narayan Vyas:
We are waiting for the panchayat department to cover all 18,000 villages in the state under the e-gram initiative. Once this is done, we are planning to use the broadband connectivity to initiate an e-medicine programme wherein we will set up e-cardio testing and e-diagnosis facilities. All villages will have these facilities over a period of two years.
Through video conferencing, doctors at a distant hospital will be able to diagnose villagers for basic ailments and prescribe medicines online. The printout of the prescription will be available at the community service centres set up by the department.
This proposal raises a number of questions – even though the state government of Gujarat has set aside 4% of its total budget for the health sector, is funding all that is needed in order to implement such schemes? Granted, physical infrastructure is required in order for the scheme to be operational, but how will training be provided to local medical practitioners? Where will these services be made available? Through PHCs? Private clinics? How will this equipment be maintained over time? How much will these services cost, and how effective will diagnoses be? Has this program been piloted in other rural areas? Most fundamentally, how will e-diagnoses be effective when stable access to electricity isn’t even guaranteed in most parts of rural India?
The scheme is an ambitious and admirable one, but I remain skeptical as to feasibility given human and physical resource constraints.