Information for Patients: a solution?

One of the biggest problems that patients face is a lack of information. This problem may have been mitigated to some extent in the developed societies with the ubiquity of the internet, though the huge amount of anecdotal and even misleading information may be confusing rather than useful. In India this has always been a problem and remains so today. Anybody who has been in medical practice in India will acknowledge that patients are information deprived, about their disease, their prognosis, and the best places for treatment and about the costs involved.
This has led to a lot of information published by newspapers which almost all have a health page nowadays. However these are almost always sponsored by hospital chains and peddle half-truths and sometimes plain lies in order to direct patient traffic to their facilities. The newspapers of course are totally regulated by their advertisement departments, and even the interviews that appear in them, extolling the feats of Dr X or Dr Y are all basically paid advertisements. One of my oldest friends has made a career out of these slanted medical stories. The venality of doctors is amazing and they do not hesitate to throw all ethical norms to the winds in order to advertise themselves in the print and other media.
But that is not germane to what I want to talk about today and that is information to patients. There are few sources of unbiased, evidence based information for a patient who is ill. The only sources are the mall number of honest and well read doctors who talk to their patients and guide them properly and some of the websites of the societies that link together patients, physicians and official bodies and are based on particular diseases. The Diabetic Society website comes to mind.
One of my friends, Rakesh ( Dr Rakesh Biswas MD) has been working for a long time on these issues. He, together with a young software designer developed a sms and web based system for this precise purpose. Unfortunately nothing much came out of that initiative because of various issues including that of copyright, if I am correct. However he has not given up and now, from his Institute in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, where he is Professor, Rakesh has initiated another study where he plans to utilize the expertise of the Mumbai IIT’s Professor Karandikar. He plans and I quote “to create a countrywide network of certified health professionals with a proven track record and direct patients to them in an individualized manner where the first information transaction will begin in an individual query generated from the patient user's mobile phone and this will direct that person to the information stored in our web page (through an intermediate human driven transaction and processing).” He plans to roll this out sometime later this year in rural Madhya Pradesh and then if there are no glitches, to the rest of the country step by step.
Another young friend of mine, Nipon (Of Niponwave and Bongo Buzz fame) and I have been discussing off and on the possibility of starting a web based service that will address the issue of proper information on health for the common man. Unfortunately as neither he (he is Final Year medical student) nor I have a lot of time to devote to this, we have not made much headway. I have shared our ideas with Rakesh and he plans to see if some of them can be include in the proposed project he is working on with the IIT, Mumbai.
It is an issue that has bothered me for a long time. It is because of paucity of information that rural people and those from smaller cities travel long distances to metropolitan cities to receive treatment that may have been easily available nearer home and saved much money and harassment. They are often the prey of touts who take them to certain medical centres where they are fleeced of health and their meager wealth. And I feel a tremendous (and helpless) hatred for the crooked practices that have become almost routine in medical practice today. I hope that this initiative will succeed. It may be a drop in the ocean that is the Indian population, but it may also bring about a revolution that will change Indian health care. I am the eternal optimist!


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