G. Shainesh

Telemedicine in India

12 September 2012

In India, 22 million babies are born every year. Of these, some 10% are prematurely born or underweight. A severe risk for these babies is to become blind due to badly developed blood vessels in the eye – Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). And such blindness develops early, first symptoms come after four weeks after  birth and it is irreversible. If diagnosed in time it is possible to conduct a surgical operation to cure ROP. India is a vast country and many people live in the countryside and are poor. Medical doctors and hospitals are in the city.

Marketing professor G. Shainesh from the Indian Institute of Management is a regular visitor at our School and teaches in our programs. Currently, he conducts a research project in India where he studies how telecommunications has enabled low-price diagnosis of ROP. This is a business that already works. This is the hardware: A medical doctor in Bangalore, and mobile team consisting of a technician, a driver, a retina camera (100 kUSD) and a minivan. The mobile team visits villages where families with underweight babies have appointments to get a diagnosis of the baby. In a day, the technician can diagnose 25-30 babies. In most cases, he can judge the baby’s risk of getting ROP. If there is a risk, he writes a prescription for the family to go to the hospital. In doubtful cases, he sends images to the medical doctor in Bangalore who, with an iPhone application, scrutinizes the images and sends feedback. Thanks to the combination of the mobile team and telecommunications many babies are saved from blindness.

Now, this happens in India. But is possible to draw some generic conclusions.

  1. The users do not have to learn any new technology. The technology is an enabler in the background.
  2. Thanks to this service innovation, the cost of the retina camera can be amortized over far more patients. Thus the cost per patient can be kept low.

I would guess similar improvements in capital utilization can be found in the west. Perhaps it is time to transfer innovation from India to here. For our next Executive MBA class going to India in January, I hope they will pick up some ideas.

G. Shainesh
Professor G. Shainesh, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore presenting his research at our School. His fields of interest are social entrepreneurship, customer relations management and service innovation.