With a large pool of well-trained doctors and high-tech infrastructure, India is fast emerging as a tele-radiology hub, providing offshore X-ray reporting services to the United States, Europe, Singapore and the Middle East.
In fact, with tele-radiology, there are no geographic boundaries!
According to estimates, the US is facing a shortage of radiologists with 20 per cent of vacancies going unfilled in hospitals.
"There is worldwide shortage of qualified radiologists and tele-radiology counters this by providing services from one area to another. It can be used to cover the night shift from another geographic zone or to cover remote areas where there are CT (computerised tomography) or other scanners but no radiologists to interpret the results," said Sunita Maheshwari, director, Telerad Solutions, Bangalore, which is pioneer in tele-radiology.
"India has an optimal time advantage with the US in terms of providing emergency night shift services to the American hospitals. We also possess high technology infrastructure base, a large pool of well-trained doctors, skilled manpower and a lower cost of living," Maheshwari told PTI.
Tele-radiology means electronic transmission of radiological images, such as X-Rays, CTs and MRIs from one location to another for the purpose of interpretation and consultation.
The doctors here are thus providing diagnostic interpretation of all emergently and non-emergently performed non-invasive imaging studies, including compound tomography, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), ultrasound, X Ray, nuclear medicine studies and conventional plain films. In emergency setting, these services are provided with a turnaround time of less than 30 minutes.
"The scope of tele-radiology is enormous. One doctor sitting in a centralised reading facility can cover several hospitals at the same time making this a very efficient use of a radiologists time and skill," said Maheshwari.
However, Yatish Agarwal, a medical specialist at Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi said "The scope has become limited because of certification problems. Only those doctors who have relocated from the US, can do offshoring to America. Such restrictions also exist in many European countries."
"Thus Indian doctors who have relocated from these countries can only do this job, which is limiting the scope of this work. However, as said tele-radiology knows no boundaries. It has immense scope even in Indian conditions. A doctor sitting in a remote area can discuss the results of an MRI or CT scan with a specialist in Mumbai or Delhi," points out Agarwal.
Agrees Maheshwari, but said "the US has around 20 per cent Indian doctors. And with telemedicine becoming popular, they can easily come back and start working from here. Five Indian radiologists from the US will be back in Bangalore by this year end."
Licensing barriers are there but they can be easily overcome. American doctors too come here and apply for a working licence. There are many FRCS (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons) doctors practising here. They all can work for the UK and countries, which recognise British degrees. Singapore has recently awarded recognition to our doctors, she added.
Within India also, the scope of tele-radiology is immense. The remote areas have limitations of infrastructure. There it can make the greatest impact. If a patient gets right diagnosis, he can be treated in the right manner, she said.
Tele-radiology is already working in Bijapur, Raipur and some backward areas also. "We have also started the service for a hospital in Kerala and remote areas in Karnataka," she said.
There are three main challenges facing healthcare -- quality, cost and time delivery. The goal of tele-radiology is to optimise the use of technology to tackle these challenges head on, said Maheshwari, noting, "We leverage technology every day as we work with hospitals that extend halfway around the world literally from Bijapur to Philadelphia."