M – Health Care in India

Dr. Rajesh G Konnur

Communication is a key force to life in this era. Electronic communication has become a vital element in every walk of life. The smart electronic technology is a boon for all. From simple talks to  informal chats, we find the influence of electronic communication everywhere.

The development of wireless communication systems started in 1930s with the use of “Walkie-talkies” during the Second World War. This was done to enable footed soldiers to stay in contact with the headquarters. In 1946, AT & T Bell introduced the first commercial radiotelephone service in the United States, which allowed communication between mobile users in cars and the public fixed network. In the 1960, Bell Systems launched the Improved Mobile Telephone Service (IMTS), which laid the basis for commercial sector mobile communications. Developments in microprocessor technologies in the late 1970s & early 1980s enabled the introduction of the reliable wireless communications system, the so called first generation, second and third generation respectively. The objective of 3G networks includes world-wide connectivity, high data transmission for multimedia & efficient spectrum utilization.

Mobile technology is also deeply penetrated in health sector. It has given birth to Telemedicine. Telemedicine is defined as the use of telecommunication and information technology to provide health care to people who are separated by geography & distance from the provider. This is achieved by use of mobile phones and its “apps”.

Mobile technologies have transformed the way healthcare providers communicate and these mobile devices are poised to revolutionize the way hospitals deliver care. Mobile technology offers ways to help these challenges through mobile health applications, sensors, medical devices & remote patient monitoring products.

M- Health or the use of mobile applications for healthcare is a young and dynamic field that could improve the well-being of people around the world. It is supported by mobile technology such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants & other wireless devices. The emerging use of this technology in health care is for treatment compliance, emerging management, mobile telemedicine, health promotion and community mobilization.

India has the second largest wireless communication subscriber in the world. Wireless subscribers comprise 96% of telecom subscribers in India and contribute to an urban wireless tele-density which is fourfold of rural India.

One of the reasons for the popularity of mobile phones in India is the low call tariff. At 1.6 USD/ month, India has one of the lowest mobile call tariffs globally. This makes mobile phone communication economical in the Indian context. Further, the average expenditure on mobile phones in rural households is an estimated 5 INR/ month, while the same is 37 INR/month in urban poor households. Very recent studies indicate the majority of the urban poor households in India spend approximately 3% of their monthly income on mobile communication. Given the overwhelming popularity of mobile phone communication, at low cost, M – Health in the Indian context holds very good promise.

In context to Indian scenario, mHealth interventions accepted and adherence to antiretroviral therapy in South India and for healthcare consultation in rural North India. The potential of M – Health is being harnessed by the Indian government in the “Mother & Child Tracking System (MCTS)” within the “National Rural Health Mission ( NRHM).”

The MCTS gathers health information from antenatal and post natal women in an attempt to ensure healthcare delivery to these women & to under-five children. Text messaging or Short Message Service (SMS) technology is also used to communicate with 3.2 million Indian Central Government employees under the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS). Plans for its use in adolescent health, reproductive health and Family planning, substance abuse and non-communicable disease prevention and treatment are underway. Digitalization and good connectivity in rural access help to contextualize healthcare delivery via mobile phones to 70% of the country’s population residing in rural India.

In the near future, M – Health will become a reality due to its cost effectiveness and bridging the gap between far away clients with healthcare providers.

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