New Delhi: When a doctor at a mohalla clinic in Todapur in West Delhi prescribed medicines for 10-year-old Rohit, who was suffering from fever, his parents did not need to visit the pharmacist to get the medicines. They got it right there at the clinic from the newly-installed automatic vending machine.
Last week, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi introduced an automatic medicine dispenser on a pilot basis. The dispenser, which works on sensor technology, will make the clinics more efficient and ensure transparency, said government officials. The dispenser can hold up to 60-70 types of medicines, including syrups.
“The introduction of the medicine vending machine gives confidence to the patient. It also makes the process more transparent. The patient is getting medicines through the machine which means it’s coming from the correct source," said Rishi Bal, a doctor at the Todapur mohalla clinic, which has a pharmacy.
The machine has been installed in collaboration with US Agency for International Development (USAID), which has funded the machine. The Todapur clinic has been installed on a pilot basis and will be taken up by other clinics, if found successful.
When a patient visits the clinic, the details are fed into the system and a prescription is generated. The patient can go over to the vending machine to get the medicines.
“This (the vending machine) can account for 60-70 types of medicines, but there are a lot more medicines that are available. So we have stocked up medicines in this machine according to the weather conditions and looking at the type of medication that is frequently used. Other medicines are also available but we give them manually from the pharmacy at the clinic and stock up more on the frequently-used medication," said Bal.
The Delhi government has put in place a three-tier structure that works on the primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare model. For immediate consultation, there is the mohalla clinic. These clinics are equipped to conduct over 200 tests and initial diagnosis. For further diagnosis and treatment, there are polyclinics. The third tier for surgeries and treatment are the existing multi-specialty hospitals.
Affordable healthcare was a key poll promise of the AAP government, which came to power in February 2015.
For 30-year-old Rajyashree Sahu the Todapur clinic next door is a boon.
“I am a mother of four and I don’t have the time to take them very far. With such a system, I can take a token, show my child and still be close to my house even though I may have to wait for my turn. There has been a lot of buzz about this machine, let’s see how long I have to wait to get my medicines today," she said as she waited for her turn at the clinic on Monday.
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The Todapur Mohalla Clinic caters to around 80 patients on a daily basis. During seasons when viral infections rise, the clinic increases the number of patient tokens. “Patients with all kinds of diseases ranging from minor symptoms to severe conditions seek consultation and medication from the mohalla clinic," said Sheela Tanwar, a staff member at the clinic.
“The concept of mohalla clinic has managed to achieve milestones in Delhi because healthcare delivery service has now come to the doorsteps. The patients used to go to hospitals where they used to crowd the hospitals and they themselves used to face difficulty in reaching the area. The trend has now reversed. People now come to the doctor for even minor ailments. Since every disease has an incubation period, this process makes early detection possible," Bal said.
Currently, there are over 100 such clinics in Delhi. The government has set a target of constructing 1,000 more clinics by the end of the year. In January, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that medicines will be made available free of cost in Delhi hospitals and healthcare centres.
“The doctors and clinic staff are very regular and punctual," said Vimla, 52, who is a resident of Todapur locality. Vimla has been treated for joint pain in her legs for the past three months. “The check-ups and medicines were totally free of cost and the relief very prompt," she added.
Earlier this year, the Central government in a pilot project set up five healthcare ATMs. According to a report by Indian Express , this project, spread across four states including Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, are to tackle the shortage of doctors and pilferage that comes along with free drug programmes.
Analysts said that the creation of such a database is a positive step.
Arup Mitra, health policy research unit, Institute of Economic Growth, highlighted the doctor-patient ratio as one of the key factors that contributes to the efficiency of mohalla clinics. “A high doctor-patient ratio leads to laziness and laxity among doctors; hence, they tend to avoid the patients," said Mitra. “The specialization required with the doctors at the clinics to deal with certain critical/advanced diseases that occur in the people of these mohallas is a question mark," he added.
“In medical science, history is very important," said Mitra, adding that creating a digital database which can be accessed instantly is positive step.
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