Internet usage in India on the rise
Currently, 130 million people in India now access the internet via smart phones. Fifty percent of urban internet users access the internet daily. So, the questions here are: is healthcare via a phone possible in an ‘emerging economy’? Could this be the equivalent of buying a pizza or booking a ticket online?
Until now, encounters between doctors and patients have always been on a face to face basis. Professor Ganapathy, past president of the Neurological Society of India and the Telemedicine Society of India, had serious concerns about whether India was ready to receive healthcare via a phone. He writes: “From October 2012 to April 2013, 1866 individuals from five states were interviewed, 31% from rural areas. 22% from rural areas had smart phones (46% in urban). Surprisingly 48% in rural India and 72% in urban areas had heard of mobile health (mHealth). I would love to do a similar study in the UK or the US. Perhaps it will clearly show that we are no longer following the West, not even piggy backing, but just leap frogging.”
In a recent article, he added: “In 2011, when I carried out a smaller study at a world renowned temple of technology in Chennai, the awareness of mHealth was dismally low. The most reassuring finding now was that 55% of respondents (urban and rural) showed a very strong intent to use mobile phones for healthcare, if available. Mobile network operators in India should wake up to this. Their role in this will be much more than offering mobile TV – Tendulkar not withstanding.”
Several studies have clearly shown that even with 900 million phones you can only do so much talking. Revenue will almost certainly come only from value-added services. In accordance with The National e-Governance Plan of India, 100 000 Common Service Centres are currently being set up to cover India’s 600 000+ villages. These internet enabled, revenue generating, self sustaining kiosks that are set to be run by village tech entrepreneurs will offer various services to the community.
A few weeks ago a memorandum of understanding was signed adding healthcare. Bluetooth-enabled glucometers, wireless ECGs, sphygmomanometers and other peripheral medical devices are to ensure that remote healthcare becomes a reality.
The internet is also being used to provide authenticated validated health information to villagers in India. Professor Ganapathy states: “I strongly endorse the NHS view that patient empowerment is more important than antibiotics. On 6 June 2011 the United Nations declared that internet access is a human right. Who knows, in the next decade healthcare via the internet may be a reality for the one sixth of humanity living in India. As someone who qualified in the BC era (before computers) these are particularly exciting times.”