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Quicker diagnosis and faster treatments

25 January 2010

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A remote diagnosis tool being developed by a Bangalore-based firm will advance telemedicine technology by allowing quick transfer of rural patients’ diagnostic data to doctors. This will reduce the time lag to the actual treatment, and will help lower death rates from malaria and other diseases.

Tucked into the Intel website is a section where the computer chip giants ‘Imagine the possibilities’ for future computer technologies. Showcased in the embedded technology section is the story of a Bangalore start-up that is attempting to revolutionise rural healthcare delivery by making it possible for doctors to diagnose and treat patients sitting miles away from villages lacking doctors.

Using Intel processor technology, automating basic diagnosis tools like microscopes, ECG machines with intelligent algorithms in a smart box, and connecting small primary health clinics to medical expertise via broadband or GSM networks, the three-year-old company — Ktwo Technology Solutions — is attempting to redefine the term telemedicine.

Among the things Ktwo is hoping to achieve, as it starts pilot programmes of the remote diagnosis system in four public health centres in Gadag and Bagalkot districts, is reduction of malaria deaths that often occur in rural areas due to the huge time lags between procuring blood samples and actual medical treatment.

“We want to put medicine back into the term telemedicine since focus of all current telemedicine effort is on the tele part rather than the medicine part,” says serial entrepreneur, IIT-Kharagpur alumni and Ktwo Technology founder Ananth Koppar.

“You need a lot more data than just being able to see a patient over a telemedicine network. The problem we are trying to address is to see if it is possible to collect and pass diagnostic data in an efficient way to enable quick treatment in places not served by doctors,” says Koppar, who was part of the founding team in 1992 of one of Bangalore’s earliest pure play software companies, BFL Software.

Started as part of a project for a doctoral thesis, Koppar is working on remote healthcare diagnosis product called ‘Kshema’ that is still in its developmental phase and is not on commercial offer. “When I started Ktwo we wanted to see if we could develop products that enable better access to quality healthcare. Our primary considerations were that it should be affordable and usable in tough environments,” says Koppar.

A patient information and record tracking system, originally developed by Ktwo for a corporate hospital, was the first programme in the system, an ECG reading was integrated, a microscope automation and blood analysis system has been integrated, an automated malaria diagnosis system is being tested, and other vital preliminary diagnosis inputs will be incorporated in the system, making it a complete remote diagnosis tool, says Koppar. The data can be collected and disseminated by technicians, he said.

The microscopy element called Cytosight addresses the lacunae in the availability of pathologists beyond urban centres in India by providing data electronically to experts to allow early preliminary diagnosis of diseases like malaria or chikungunya, Koppar says.

“While talking to doctors we have found many younger doctors working in the rural setup taking to the idea of having technology support to improve their efficiency. They feel that it can save a lot of time. However, only time will tell how it works out,” he says.

Ktwo Technology’s bread and butter products, meanwhile, are electronic goods that are already in the commercial domain. The company has launched bluetooth-based hands-free car kit that plugs into a car stereo system and does away with the need of an earpiece that is now being offered as part of accessories by one of India’s biggest car manufacturers. A voice recognition-based headset developed by the company is being used in managing warehouses and is also exported to Belgium.

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