Tech & healthcare: Improving diabetes treatment in rural India


Not only are there many people with diabetes in rural India, but awareness levels are low.

By Vikram Thaploo

According to estimates by the International Diabetes Federation, nearly 101 million will be affected by diabetes in India by 2030. The prevalence of diabetes in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad ranges from 8-18% which is high as compared to rural areas. But studies indicate that the prevalence of diabetes in rural areas is on the rise and in some areas, it’s more than in urban areas. Also, a significant proportion of India’s population (70%) live in rural areas where screening is seldom carried out.

Lack of physicians, limited access to healthcare, transport issues, and unaffordability are some of the major factors that create major obstacles to diabetes management in rural areas. Not only are there many people with diabetes in rural India, but awareness levels are low.

Thanks to the advancement of technology and the inception of telemedicine, there is a growing opportunity to improve diabetes care in resource-limited rural areas of the country. Using a combination of innovative tools such as telemedicine in addition to using locally available talent and personnel, a significant impact can be made in large communities in terms of mass screening for diabetes, increased awareness of diabetes, prevention at various levels, improved HbA1c levels, and provision of health care for various complications of diabetes.

The gap in providing diabetes care in rural areas can be filled by the use of telemedicine. Telemedicine is a tool that uses telecommunication to support health care in remote zones, and its primary purpose is to facilitate an interaction between the patient and the health care provider to achieve improved treatment and lower treatment costs. Only those patients with more advanced diabetic conditions requiring tertiary-level treatment would need to be brought to the specialist hospitals in cities for further management of the disease.

How telemedicine can prove useful
Proper and consistent monitoring: With the help of telemedicine, doctors can get a 24-hour profile of the patient that allows a better understanding of the condition to treat it properly.

Better patient engagement: Patients in rural areas can access specialist medical support from their homes which not only removes the locations barriers of treatment but also leads to better patient engagement.

Assistance for lifestyle modifications: Lifestyle modifications are a critical aspect of diabetes care which includes diabetes self-management education (DSME), nutrition therapy, diabetes self-management support (DSMS), smoking cessation, physical activity, counselling, and psychosocial care. Diabetes self-management education and support programmes have the necessary elements in their curriculum to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes.

Telemedicine intervention methods provide an opportunity to address this issue by regularly following up with patients at home and helping them to adopt self-care behaviours or lifestyle modifications.

Telemedicine can help to bring in an element of personalised care in the prevention and management of diabetes. Patients are now being empowered to manage their health and doctors can provide a timely and targeted intervention through telemedicine. These advances save time and cost because important data can be collected remotely and virtual management of health conditions like diabetes can replace routine visits to a clinic.

The writer is CEO, Apollo TeleHealth

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