Telemedicine is the delivery of medicine using the telecommunicationdevices. The term telemedicine is composed of the Greek word tele meaning 'far', and medicine.
Telemedicine may be as simple as two health professionals discussing a case over the telephone, or as complex as using satellite technology and video-conferencing equipment to conduct a real-time consultation between medical specialists in two different countries. It can also involve the use of an unmanned robot.
Telepsychiatry is the application of Telemedicine to the field of Psychiatry. It has been the most successful of all the telemedicine applications so far, because of its need for only a good videoconferencing facility between the patient and the psychiatrist, especially for follow-up.
Care at a distance (also called in absentia care), is an old practice which was often conducted via post; there has been a long and successful history of in absentia health care, which - thanks to modern communication technology - has metamorphosed into what we know as modern telemedicine. In its early manifestations, African villagers used smoke signals to warn people to stay away from the village in case of serious disease. In the early 1900s, people living in remote areas in Australia used two-way radios, powered by a dynamo driven by a set of bicycle pedals, to communicate with the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. .
SCARF and Telemedicine:
With SCARF’s involvement in providing psychosocial intervention to survivors of tsunami, came the realization that the need for mental health care in the affected areas was enormous. Limited manpower and distances that needed to be traveled by the patients or by the professionals, meant that there would be a huge gap in the service delivery system. Telemedicine appeared to be the answer to the vast number of mentally ill in the community with no access to proper mental health care.
The telemedicine service was formally inaugurated by Dr P Vijayalakshmi, the Director of Medical education, Govt. of Tamil Nadu on July 20th , 2006. However operations had commenced much earlier, with the support of OXFAM India and SAATHI, an NGO involved in establishing telemedicine services in various parts of the country. After a period of 6 months, connectivity was established in Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Thiruporur, Dharmakulam and Karaikal with the support of Deutche Bank Foundation, Germany. Connectivity is through ISDN lines in many centers.
Patients are examined by the psychiatrist, sitting in Chennai office, who advises appropriate medication/psychosocial intervention. Medicines are made available at the field offices and are distributed by the field workers. Liaison with local NGOs, who are provided training in identification of mental health problems in the community, helps to bring in patients to the center.
More than 400 patients have been seen in various centers. Although most patients do not understand the technology, the idea of discussing their problems with a doctor is quite welcome. There has been a gradual increase in the usage of the unit. Some patients have also accessed the service in times of emergencies.
Subject to the availability of funds, we plan to expand the tele medicine network to more places in Tamil Nadu.