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Hospital groups bullish on telemedicine

Nithya Subramanian

New Delhi , Sept. 25

PATIENTS in rural India being able to get expert advice from a specialist in a metro or even from a doctor in the UK or the US without having to move out of their environs - unthinkable in the past - is a growing reality today.

The healthcare industry seems to be venturing into telemedicine in a big way with hospital groups trying to `virtually' expand their reach.

The Apollo Hospitals Group, for instance, is tying up with Lahore Imaging Centre as part of its telemedicine initiative. Others such as Fortis Healthcare and Wockhardt are also bullish on the segment.

Even independent start-ups such as DV Tele-Diagnosis Pvt Ltd, which acts as an interface between the doctor-patient in India and a specialist abroad, are also foraying the segment.

And the tie-ups vary between creating linkages among smaller hospitals and larger super-speciality healthcare centres within the group, connecting with hospitals overseas as well as educational institutions.

While Fortis is planning to create super-speciality hospitals in the Capital, which will be connected through telemedicine to its smaller centres, Wockhardt Hospitals has tied up with educational institutions across the country.

The Apollo Group, which claims to be a pioneer in telemedicine by launching its first centre in Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh in 1999, currently has 60 centres across the country with many more in the pipeline.

According to Mr Vishal Bali, Vice-President - Operations, Wockhardt Hospitals Ltd, "Telemedicine will help in a country which is diversified and has a large geographical span. It will help people who cannot afford to travel to access good healthcare."

But apart from this, it helps corporate hospital groups make their presence felt in rural areas in a big way. Even though investments for setting up telemedicine centres are very low, there are gains for hospital groups.

"Right now, there is no major impact on revenues, but these help in geographical distribution. It also helps build the hospital brand," said Mr Bali.

Mr Gaurav Verma, Chief Marketing Officer, DV Tele-Diagnosis, which is planning to set up independent telemedicine centres in association with the medical fraternity in India and abroad, felt that there is money to be made in the business.

His business model envisages a revenue-share arrangement.

"The patient will be charged a fee which will be shared between the referral doctor, his company and the specialist. And the fee would depend on the kind of consultation sought by the patient," Mr Verma elaborated.

Meanwhile, the Government is also keen on giving telemedicine the necessary push. It has set up a Standards Committee on Telemedicine to advise the Government on the issue.

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