Rajwati, who runs a boutique in east Delhi, needed help to get an appointment in AIIMS for her four-year-old daughter, who had been suffering from fever. One of her acquaintances directed her to the online appointment system.
“I sought the appointment on August 24 in the paediatrics department and got it the very next day. I never believed an online appointment system could be effective in a place like AIIMS,” said Rajwati.
The Online Registration System (ORS), a web portal launched by the Ministry of Information and Technology as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative, has seen over 46,000 online bookings since May in the five hospitals that are currently registered with it. The majority of patients — as many as 39,000 — have sought appointments in AIIMS.
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On Friday, of around 400 appointments made till 9 pm on the portal, 308 were for AIIMS. Among other hospitals in Delhi, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital has booked 3,000 appointments since the portal was launched. Most appointments are for doctors specialising in ENT, orthopaedics and cardiology.
In the Sports Injury Centre, the only unit of Safdarjung hospital on the portal, close to 1,300 online appointments have been made, a majority of them in arthroscopy and joint disorders. Among hospitals outside Delhi, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS) in Bangalore saw 2,791 online appointments, and the Agartala Government Medical College in Tripura had 76 online appointments.
The computerised appointment system at AIIMS was a pilot project launched by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) last year, and, according to experts, patients have had the time to “warm up” to the online system.
“We have managed to reduce the waiting time for online appointments to the next day for all departments, except three. For ENT, which once had a six-month waiting period, the waiting period has now been reduced to a month,” said Dr Deepak Agrawal, in-charge of IT activities at AIIMS.
At AIIMS, the departments of medicine, orthopaedics and the R P Centre for Opthalmology and Neurology have witnessed the highest number of appointments, according to real-time data from the portal since its inception on May 7.
AIIMS had initially reserved a certain number of patient slots in the Outpatient Department (OPD) for online appointments, but now all OPD bookings have been opened up for online appointments. To encourage patients to come with a prior appointment, even walk-in patients who queued up for OPD appointments are given appointments via the online system, said Dr Agrawal.
“People who come with appointments spend less than two hours at the hospital. Those without prior appointments have to wait 4-5 hours and some of them may even get appointments on following days. That’s how we are encouraging patients to take online appointments,” said Dr Agrawal.
While Rajwati had to wait less than three hours to see a doctor, many other patients who come without prior appointments had to go back disappointed. “I came at 7 am from Aligarh to get an appointment for my father’s kidney problem, but all slots were filled. I had to stand in a queue to get an appointment even though I was one of the earliest to arrive,” said Irfan, a rickshaw puller.
“I did not know AIIMS had a system of online appointments. I cannot read or write, how will I get appointments online? I am worried because they are saying ‘if you do not come with an appointment, whenever you come, you will be given an appointment for a later day’,” he said.
When asked about this, Dr Agrawal admitted that AIIMS is yet to conduct a study on the socio-economic and educational profile of patients who are availing online appointments. “We usually try not to refuse poor, walk-in patients, and our staff helps them get appointments through the online system. Going by the high number of bookings, a wide range of patients are coming to us. This computerised system is the only way to manage patients better,” he explained.
However, on an average, nearly 50 per cent of those who make an online appointment never turn up.