SUPARCO, being a national space agency of Pakistan and having an experience in satellite communications has initiated a Satellite Communication based Telemedicine network as pilot project which has been successfully established. VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal), state of art technology has been selected to provide broad band (satellite) connectivity, for live video conferencing, transfer of high quality biomedical images i.e. CT scan, MRI, X-rays etc, that best meets the requirements of doctors/specialists. Two sites have been connected through Paksat-1 satellite transponder, one at Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center (JPMC), Karachi as hub and other at Shikarpur civil hospital (interior Sindh) as remote site.
Furthermore, SUPARCO has joint venture with Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center (JPMC) for better utilization of satellite based network infrastructure regarding telemedicine applications, including tele-consultations and tele-trainings etc.
- To identify technologies, methods and procedures necessary for providing tele-medicine/e-health facilities using satellite communications.
- To develop the expertise and know-how to establish telemedicine facilities in remote areas.
- To develop the capability to establish tele-medicine facilities in natural and anthropogenic disasters.
- To demonstrate the benefits and effectiveness of telemedicine.
- To utilize effectively bandwidth of Paksat-1 satellite for the Telemedicine applications in Pakistan.
Telecom infrastructure in Pakistan
Pakistan is strategically located in the heart of Asia. It consists of four provinces and total population is about 162 million. Pakistan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Telemedicine/tele-health is being increasing used effectively in developing countries where rural areas lack medical facilities. For countries that have a poor terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure, satellite communications provides quick and cheap means of communication. Pakistan, due to its vast size, large segment of population residing in far-flung areas, and inadequate/unsatisfactory terrestrial telecommunication network, is an ideal candidate for satellite based telemedicine. Furthermore, National telecom has provided approximate 47% telephone lines at the village and about 53% is still looking for telephone line facility at village level. These conditions become worse in case of ISDN, DSL or Fiber connectivity at the village level.
Collaboration between SUPARCO and JPMC, Karachi
Keeping in view of above mentioned situation of telecom infrastructure and health services within the country, SUPARCO had initiated a Telemedicine pilot project headed by a Project Manager. He had supported by team of four engineers and technicians to establish satellite based Telemedicine network by using Paksat-1 satellite transponder for e-health applications. In the preliminary phase of project, meetings were held between SUPARCO engineers team with the doctors of JPMC to get their requirement, i.e. quality of video conferencing, data transfer services with reliability of communication link required regarding Telemedicine applications. Further, also set the responsibilities of SUPARCO and JPMC for better utilization of Telemedicine applications.
Location of Project
The civil hospital Shikarpur has been selected as remote site and JPMC as central (Hub) site. Geographically, Shikarpur is approximately 500km away from Karachi and has advantages that the same hospital renders the medical services for some remote areas of Baluchistan province which is near to the Shikarpur. The total strength of male/female doctors are about 37 and 260 beds are available at civil hospital Shikarpur.
- Provided free VSAT equipment for pilot project
- Allocation of free bandwidth on Paksat-1 satellite transponder
- Provided manpower for designing of network, installation, testing and commissioning of system at both sites.
- Technical consultancy and assistance
The project, which started a little less than two years ago in Shikarpur and Khairpur, provides the centres a desktop computer, an EMR, X-Ray scanner, video phone, and high-speed internet connections. An ISDN line connects five districts to Karachi while one hospital in Shikarpur is connected via satellite.
Consultants are available for poor people and people from the rural areas who have no access to such expertise otherwise. The project also trains paramedical staff and local doctors who are updated on diseases such as Dengue and Hepatitis.
The project works in two ways. In one, a doctor who encounters a difficult case can sent the details to the larger center which provides advice. The patient’s records are followed. In the second option, videoconferencing is used for patients who are not getting better with the first option.
Part of the hiccups involve the poor connectivity of ISDN lines but there are no such problems with the satellite service.
People in the rural areas have started coming to the centers after they hear that they can access some famous doctor from there and there was an increase in the number of patients in 2006.
Telemedicine is not a treatment and just a way to allow treatment but it is still a step forward as some patients who would never dream of leaving their village have been persuaded to travel for treatment to the bigger centers.
- The pilot project would help, determine the benefits of this technology for the social and health sectors at low cost and in a relatively short time.
- It will also help demonstrate the use of the technology in educating doctors/paramedical staff in rural areas on latest medical practices.
- The project relates to various sectors, including research, telecommunication, human resource development and social welfare. It is a humanitarian project aimed at providing satellite based communication network for transfer of medical information and health care services to distant areas as well as in disaster areas.