The Gujarat government is planning to rope in private doctors to start tele-ICU services that are expected to ease the pressure on government hospitals and health centres in rural and remote areas that have a dearth of specialised doctors.
The tele-ICU service will work like a “remotely monitoring ICU through tele calling or video calling” — i.e. a critical care doctor on phone/video can guide the medical staff at the health care facility in treating emergency cases, says health commissioner Jai Prakash Shivahare.
“The idea is to tackle the shortage of expert doctors, especially in remote locations. Also, to expand critical care at door steps using teleconference or video call facilities by experts or specialities or super specialists sitting in hubs,” said Shivahare.
Following a test run, the state government plans to formally launch the services soon across the state, state health officials said.
The services will be launched at community health centres (CHCs), Sub District Hospitals (SDHs) and District Hospitals where intensive care (ICU) facilities are not available at pr esent.
The state government, after floating a tender in April this year, has enlisted Ahmedabad-based private agency — Virtual Health Care — to run the pilot project in 10 facilities across the state. The project was awarded to the agency on October 7.
The 10 centres include district and sub-district hospitals in Surendranagar, Morbi, Jamkhambhaliya in Devbhoomi Dwarka, Vervala in Gir Somnath, Lunawada in Mahisagar, Rajpipla in Narmada, Godhra in Panchmahal, Vyara in Tapi, Mehsana and Deesa in Banaskantha. Of these 10, the tele-ICU services will be active on November 10 at Surendranagar, Vyara and Mehsana.
“We are launching services after labh pancham at three centres while the remaining are likely to be active in another 15-20 days,” Dr Raj Raval, founder of Virtual Health Care, formed five years ago, told The Indian Express.
“There was lack of superspaciality experts as a result of which many patients used to die during transport. Also, many cannot afford the fee in city hospitals and do not want to go to cities like Ahmedabad,” he added.
The agency has done three pilots in private hospitals last three years in peripheral areas of Kalol, Mehsana and Kadi.
Officials are also planning to set up a command and control centre to monitor and facilitate the tele-ICU services, said Shivahare.
Explaining the system, Dr Raval said, “We install one mobile kiosk in all these designated ICUs with audio and video facilities with WiFi. The medical staff at the centre takes the trolley (kiosk) to the critical patient where we can see and discuss the case.”
All the medical records and notes will be recorded on the software designed by the agency and there will be 24×7 monitoring of patient by a critical care specialist. At present, the agency has 12 critical care specialists of whom designated ones are available round-the-clock at a command and control centre created in Bopal area of Ahmedabad.
The concept of the initiative was born out of the Covid-19 pandemic, which made stark the shortage of doctors who can handle critical care and emergency cases in rural and remote areas of the state.
A similar programme was introduced at the 900-bed Dhanvantari Covid Care Hospital in Ahmedabad during the second wave of infections earlier this year. Failing to find medical experts, the hospital took to tele-medicine for the treatment of some Covid-19 patients.