29/03/2017 9:58 AM IST | Updated 11/04/2017 8:33 AM IST

Good Home Healthcare Could Be A Game-Changer For Rural India

It would up quality of care for patients and be a relief to family members.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Last month, my mother, who is 92 years of age, fell in the bathroom and broke her pelvic bone. I live in the rural town of Phaltan in western Maharashtra and to get a simple X-ray done was a nightmare.

We called the local orthopaedics hospital and they sent a ramshackle ambulance. How an old Maruti Omni van got permission to ply as an ambulance is anybody's guess. Even a healthy passenger would feel sick and his/her bones would be rattled in that ambulance while going over the pot-holed roads of Phaltan. (Some of the worst roads in the country are in Maharashtra, especially its rural areas.)

Greedy doctors and hospitals in collusion with insurance agents sometimes fleece both the patients and the government in rural areas. A home healthcare system might alleviate this problem greatly.

The driver of the ambulance also doubled as the paramedic and his callous and non-empathetic attitude nearly broke my mother's heel. He almost threw my mother on the stretcher! Most ambulance services in rural places are like that, with hardly any facility to help the patient. I had to use an old sari to tie my mother to the stretcher so that her broken pelvis did not shake very much.

At the hospital, after a good deal of arguing, we got her X-ray done quite quickly—usually the process takes far longer. Since, the pelvic bone was only slightly fractured the doctor advised complete bed rest and told us to take her home. In pelvic fracture cases there is no surgery needed but just plain bed rest so that the broken bone heals by itself. That is also the reason why I did not take her to Pune for treatment.

We brought her home and were immediately confronted by the question of who would be taking care of her nursing needs. We tried to locate nursing care in Phaltan but were unsuccessful. Even the hospitals do not provide that facility. In rural areas, the relatives of patients end up doing whatever is required.

Finally after great difficulty and searching we got a 24-hour help (who had almost no training as a nurse) from Pune. Even this help relieved our emotional and physical stress.

Searching the net and talking to my doctor friends, I have finally been able to convert my mother's room into a home healthcare facility. This includes an adjustable hospital bed with air mattress and a specially fabricated small wheelchair that can navigate the narrow passages of the house and can go into the bathroom. I could get all this done because of our resources and ability to spend time searching for solutions on the net. Most of the rural population does not have this luxury.

Another tragedy in rural areas is that no doctor wants to do a home visit. No matter how ill or old the patient is, they insist that he/she should be brought to the hospital or their clinic. I was able to get a person who was not an MBBS doctor, but could administer saline or do basic dressing for bed sores. That was a partial relief.

Secondly, I was greatly helped by my brother who is an orthopaedic surgeon in Australia. He constantly advised us on the basic care and telemedicine by him really helped us.

Very frequently I have seen that in rural and also in urban areas, the missing ingredient in patient care is good nursing facilities. Putting a patient in hospital (whether he or she is terminally ill or suffering from non-life-threatening ailments) means endless headaches for relatives who have to stay in the hospital, look after the nursing care of the patient and run around continuously to get medicines and medical supplies. Besides, hospitals charge exorbitant amounts for surgeries and for lots of unnecessary tests performed on the patient.

For poor people, the Government of India has mooted quite a number of good schemes which provide hospitalisation for below poverty line (BPL) patients and take care of their bills through insurance cover. Yet I have seen these schemes misused by doctors and hospitals where they admit the patients at the slightest pretext and charge them the full amount even for minor ailments. The money is then paid to the hospital by the insurance company.

Our medical care system in rural areas is therefore quite broken, with very greedy doctors and hospitals who in collusion with insurance agents, sometimes fleece both the patients and the government.

I feel a home healthcare system might alleviate this problem greatly.

The home care system will rely on special agencies who will provide trained nurses (at nominal cost) for homes, simple equipment like small wheelchairs, beds, commodes, etc. and qualified doctors on duty who can respond through the internet, mobile phones, etc. to the queries from the nurses; under emergency conditions, they'd visit the homes. Presently there are no such agencies but they are urgently needed.

This system will be much more economically viable than having a dedicated hospice facility.

For the terminally ill, a home-care system which provides nursing care and basic equipment will be very beneficial. He/she will be surrounded by family, and nursing care given by trained nurses will help relieve pain. This is especially needed when the patient also suffers from dementia, as is the case with my mother. Regular hospitals are not equipped to take care of such patients.

Financially, this system will be much more economically viable than having a dedicated hospice facility. The financial arrangements on how the government can help organisations in facilitating such a system need to be worked out. A possible solution could be to provide insurance coverage for such a home-care system.

Also such a facility can provide home-care for post-operative patients or those who need continued treatment. Too often the relatives and the family have to provide prolonged post-operative care-which they are ill equipped to do. Such a facility could be a boon for those patients.

In urban areas better medical facilities, including good ambulances, can provide timely care. In rural areas, in the absence of such facilities it is very necessary to have home-care facilities.

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