In the cubbyhole of a basement office of Mission Arogya, researchers and data compilers have their eyes transfixed on computer screens, collating and interpreting an intimidating volume of information. A projector beams more facts and figures on a whitewashed wall and throws up the under-construction website to be used by the public. Everyone in the office works with the simple brief of saving lives—and pie charts and statistics ensure that it is a job done effectively with the lowest use of resources and cost.

Just a month away from going “live" with its plans, Mission Arogya—led by four US-returned medical practitioners, engineers and social entrepreneurs with roots in Kolkata—wants to intervene affirmatively in the critical hour that stands between life and death. Untried before, their idea, christened the Kolkata Medical Emergency System (KMES), envisages a situation where a critically-ill patient finds the proper and nearest hospital bed through a Web-based updated information system or by calling up a helpline.

“For instance, if a person suffers from a heart attack, he has to be provided medical attention within 90 minutes if fatality is to be avoided. In general terms, this is known as the golden hour and here is where we will come in," says Tanmay Mahapatra, medical research director of Mission Arogya and one of the four founders.

While our urban healthcare reality often sees emergency patients being shuttled between hospitals, looking for a bed till it is too late, the KMES has already tied up with 13 major Kolkata private hospitals—including Fortis Hospitals, Medical Superspecialty Hospital, Peerless Hospital and Columbia Asia (government hospitals still have to sign up)—where trained personnel will regularly update figures on bed availability to a nodal site, which can be accessed by the public. The same figures will also be available in real time at the Arogya call centre where relatives of patients can call for information. The entire system will not cost the patients and hospitals anything.

While accessing the site, patients (or their attendants) need to select the medical condition and will immediately be informed of a bed at a hospital well-equipped to treat the condition and nearest to the patient. At the hospital end, each patient discharge or admission will be entered by the hospital authorities on to a software which will feed the website and the database of the Mission Arogya call centre. At its best, it seems like a one-click solution to a long-ignored situation of patient-plight.

While the trial run of KMES is set to begin later this month, the system is expected to be opened to the general public in December. It will also provide information on availability of blood and blood products such as whole blood, fresh frozen plasma, packed cells, etc., at blood banks.

Even before its actual implementation, the KMES proposal has found prestigious backers and accolades. Last month, the organization was awarded the second prize for Healthcare Innovation in an Emergency Service Award programme conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Aiims), New Delhi. “It was due to its very innovative yet practical and feasible concept, which can be replicated across cities," says Rajib Sengupta, Mission Arogya’s co-founder.

“The concept is excellent and needs to be encouraged. We need to see how it is executed though," says Richa Debgupta, facility director of Fortis, Kolkata, one of the hospitals implementing the KMES. Debgupta foresees some teething problems—there has to be a cut-off time for a patient to get admitted after initial enquiry through the KMES process and the system can only be successful if the KMES website and toll-free numbers are adequately publicized. “Hospitals might go lax if they see few users of the system," she says.

At Mission Arogya, the team is at work to iron out likely complexities—among others, the issue of beds hospitals may keep aside for admitted patients; including more hospitals in the plan so that a patient is not redirected to a distant hospital simply because hospitals closer to him are not affiliated to the KMES; the veracity of the ICU infrastructure of hospitals claiming to have one; accounting for the extra time required to prepare a recently-vacated hospital bed, especially if a patient with infectious diseases was there. “Our studies have thrown up many such things. But our organization philosophy is to follow up on our research," says Mahapatra.

While researching, Mahapatra learnt of a well-equipped ambulance service which didn’t know where to go on the day of the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008. “Some of these ambulances were actually present close to the site of shootouts but couldn’t be effectively used for lack of information," he adds. A project like the KMES, which is working on a plan to include ambulance services in operations, is expected to come as a lifesaver.

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