Bring home the diagnostic centre

“Besides convenience, these devices also offer enhanced safety and privacy. Many doctors also feel that these devices could work in netting non-compliance with diagnosis or treatment.” Picture shows a ‘CardioMessenger Smart’ device. Photo: Special Arrangement

Reliable, affordable self-diagnostic devices are increasingly delivering instant results to patients for a wide range of ailments

Walk into your neighbourhood clinic, meet your doctor, get a diagnosis, have a prescription in hand, collect your medicines and walk out… the entire process could take up as much as half a day. Technology and health care have, however, combined to ensure that in a country facing up to 60 per cent dropout rate in treatment adherence, easier, quicker diagnosis is available to all.

“Besides convenience, these devices also offer enhanced safety and
privacy. Many doctors also feel that these devices could work in netting non-compliance with diagnosis or treatment.” Picture shows a ‘CardioMessenger Smart’ device. Photo: Special Arrangement

Among the many gadgets which have moved out from medical and diagnostic centres and into the convenience of your home and even your handbags is Swasthya Slate/Health Cube (offering 30 diagnostic tests), Smartheart (a personal mobile electrocardiogram or ECG device that enables the detection of heart attacks), Life Vest (a personal defibrillator worn by a patient at risk for sudden cardiac arrest), CardioMessenger Smart (for patients with implanted cardiac devices such as pacemakers, implantable defibrillators) and heart, diet, exercise, blood pressure, lung and sugar monitors.

Offered at a base price that is as low as Rs.800 (testing for sugar level), an ECG device can be bought as cheap as Rs.15,000-Rs.16,000 with Health Cube being offered at a one-time cost of Rs.45,000. “The idea behind the gadget (Health Cube) is simply to ensure that the general public has control and information about their body. This is every individual’s democratic right. The device helps do just that. It offers almost instant diagnosis to patients, doctors and front-line caregivers,” explains Prof. Ramanan Laxminarayan, vice-president, Research and Policy, Public Health Foundation of India — which developed the Health Cube, a Bluetooth-enabled integrated diagnostic kit that works on Android phones and tablets, and is now working to bring out anupdated version that can perform 50 diagnostic tests.

Besides convenience, these devices also offer enhanced safety and privacy. Many doctors also feel that these devices could work in netting non-compliance with diagnosis or treatment. “The reasons for dropout vary from poor quality of tests available in the neighbourhood, time required for hospital visit and diagnosis, cumbersome treatment regime, high costs of tests and something as simple as a ‘why should I go to a doctor?’ attitude,” says Prof. Laxminarayan.

Catching on at home

The home-diagnostics movement has been gaining wider recognition and acceptance worldwide due to its competitive costs, improved accuracy of results and convenience.

While in India the government is still testing the waters, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. has given a cautious go-ahead for such diagnostic devices to be sold straight to consumers. Health Cube, however, is already being used at a Delhi government-run mohalla clinic in Peera Garhi and by front-line caregivers in Jammu.

Indians mostly buy diagnostic devices from the chemists or off the Net, the popular ones being blood pressure/sugar testing kits, home pregnancy test kits, iPhone-enabled heart rate monitors etc. “Digital technology has drastically changed the way we live, and its impact on health care is also profoundly visible today,” says Tushar Basu, managing director, BIOTRONIK India, which has brought CardioMessenger Smart to the country. He added that digitalisation is also ushering in revolutionary changes in health-care delivery across the world, including the use of telemedicine to reach out to patients in remote areas and get quicker diagnosis. “The basic idea behind it all is to ensure that technology and medical care can help patients live longer, more productive lives.”

Doctors say that self-diagnostic kits, when used well, provide patients with information about their current health condition which enables them to make informed decisions. “But this convenience should never replace a follow-up visit to a physician. Proper use of these tests will help in patients getting valuable information, enabling them to seek timely medical intervention to prevent further medical complications,” says Dr. Anil Bansal of Delhi Medical Association.