Nearly 1.5 million people in rural Tamil Nadu will have access to medical kiosks for heart check-ups, blood pressure monitoring and respiratory-ailment treatment at Rs10-20 per person in the next two years. This will happen after the Central and state governments, together with private partners, roll out 1,00,000 computer kiosks across the nation’s villages.
Currently, the tests typically cost between Rs120 and Rs500 each in Tamil Nadu villages.
The project, launched earlier this year in Mayiladurai district, 280km south of Chennai, will see 3,000 kiosks being set up in the district’s rural areas. The hardware and connectivity is being provided by Space Hospitals, a Chennai firm specializing in telemedicine.
The 1.5-million target at Mayiladurai is “only the immediate population”, says Sanjay Bharadwaj, chief executive officer, Space Hospitals. “As time goes by, we expect traffic in the kiosks from the villages surrounding those where the centres will be set up.” The big advantage in the experiment is that the computer kiosk eliminates the requirement of a doctor to do the testing. The health check-ups—electrocardiogram, blood pressure and SPO2, a test done to measure oxygen saturation in pulmonary diseases—are electronically generated with the help of a trained assistant.
A prescription for medicines and a second opinion can be provided either through a video conferencing hook-up to a hospital, or through a local doctor, who will visit the kiosk for an hour a day.
Telemedicine uses broadband connections and computers to monitor and dispense prescriptions in remote areas. Such kiosks serve well in far-flung areas because 80% of patients do not need to visit a hospital because their ailments can be treated remotely with adequate testing facilities.
Telemedicine centres have grown fivefold to 500 in the last six years in India, but fall short of the 1.5 lakh such centres that are needed, according to health administrators.
The estimated investment in the Mayiladurai project is about Rs14.4 crore (about Rs48,000 per kiosk), which will be funded by Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), the nodal agency overseeing the Community Service Centre project, and the Centre and state governments.
Here’s how that investment will be repaid: each kiosk will be managed by a franchisee, who will pay rent of Rs800 a month for five years. The real money is in the consultations, says Space’s Bharadwaj. After testing, if a patient needs help from the resident doctor or one via a video conference link, the consultation is charged at about Rs45.
Of this, Rs20 would go to the doctor, Rs10 to the kiosk owner, and Rs15 to the connectivity operators. “We haven’t worked out a detailed revenue model yet, but we expect five walk-ins a day per kiosk—which should keep everyone happy,” Bharadwaj said.
Space is now in talks to provide a business model for extending the same facility and network across India, the hospital company said.
Thirteen states are in various stages of selecting bidders for the Rs5,742-crore CSC project, with Jharkhand taking the lead. West Bengal, Punjab and Haryana are shortlisting private partners for the project, while Assam, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Tripura, Bihar, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, will call for bids from private companies to participate.