Providing Telemental Health Services after Disasters: A Case Based on the Post-Tsunami Experience

Providing Telemental Health Services after Disasters: A Case Based on the Post-Tsunami Experience

Shashi Bhushan Gogia (Indian Association for Medical Informatics, India)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-064-6.ch016


The role of information technology (IT) in managing disasters is increasingly being recognized. The Healing Touch project was started after the tsunami disaster in Tamilnadu to address the healthcare needs of the survivors through IT. Specifically; it provided mental health support to the victims near their place of residence. This project has been different from other telemedicine projects because: It was sponsored and managed entirely by NGOs. The local community and local NGOs were directly trained to manage there own health problems after the natural disaster. Success was linked to the intensive pre and post execution work done. We believe that preparation and involvement of people is the key to success in most IT projects. Some problems we faced were related to a general lack of awareness and nonpenetration of IT in the community we served. If people are using IT in their day to day work; adoption of telemedicine and other e-services will be far simpler after a disaster.
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“E-Health will completely change health care,” says Kendall Ho, who heads the U21 committee ( for e-health. “It is one of the fastest-growing fields of health care today, giving undreamt-of opportunities for us to spread our medical knowledge to the whole world.”

SATHI is a nongovernment organization (NGO) based in New Delhi and consists of experts from the fields of health, IT, and telecommunications. They provide consultancy services in the fields of telemedicine and healthcare informatics. Their members (see Acknowledgments for a list of the key persons) contribute to the projects on a voluntary basis, whereby SATHI tries to reimburse the actual costs incurred in managing the project. The idea of such varied professionals joining together was mooted in the realization that, at least in India, current practices and efforts in promoting telehealth and related services had not been very successful. SATHI felt that such technology showed great promise, but was providing less than desired outcomes. Important related aspects to this technology such as change management and capacity building and so forth were lacking. Probably a different approach was required.

SATHI was registered in 2004. The current report pertains to the very first project assignment of SATHI. It was named Healing Touch (Gogia & Surwade, 2006)

The Technology

The dictionary definition of telemedicine is the use of telecommunications technology to provide, enhance, or expedite healthcare services, as by accessing off-site databases, linking clinics or physicians’ offices to central hospitals, or transmitting x-rays or other diagnostic images for examination at another site. E-health, however is a much more encompassing term. This has been defined by World Health Organization (WHO) as:

The delivery of healthcare services, where distance is a critical factor, by all healthcare professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of healthcare providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.

Telemedicine was initially conceived to provide healthcare to space travelers, thereafter to extending healthcare facilities for the geographically hard-to-reach and the underserved, literally providing a virtual doctor to places where a physical presence is a problem. With time, telemedicine is becoming more widespread, less costly, and new applications are emerging. The technology has moved from expensive room-sized systems to the desktop personal computer, and now further to the Internet, as well as mobile phones and palm tops.

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