Gujarat startup builds bridge of hope to rural areas
Ahmedabad: To provide affordable healthcare in remote locations of Gujarat, often crippled by a shortage of physicians and pathologists, an Ahmedabad-based startup ‘Relox Diagnostics’ offers medical diagnosis through telepathology – a method in which pathological data is sent via digital means to an advanced consultation centre via the internet.
“What we basically do is link testing equipment in far-flung areas with pathologists via an app. Raw data and Images of pathology samples are sent to qualified pathologists. The pathology samples are collected by technicians at remote test centres and fed into testing equipment. The raw data and images these are transmitted to a certified pathologist and a diagnosis is provided within 30 to 60 minutes. Quality pathological results aid doctors in rural areas to start treatment immediately,” explained Alap Adeshara, one of the company’s directors.
Launched a year ago, this startup currently has 17 employees and is associated with more than 25 experts in the fields of medicine and technology. Each pathologist associated with Relox has a unique identification number and can access data that are sent by test centres through an app developed by Relox. The findings are sent back to the test centres and the patient gets a print out which is duly signed by the pathologist, as per the new legal requirements. This method not only provides emergency services to rural centres that lack pathologists but also assists the latter in completing diagnoses of suspicious cases. In December last year, the Supreme Court had upheld a Gujarat high court order which said that only qualified and registered pathologists can countersign pathological reports.
One of the first associations that Relox had was with the Tribhuvandas Foundation (TF), a charitable trust of NDDB famous for its brand Amul, for the welfare of those connected with the cooperative. “Due to socioeconomic reasons, rural and remote areas are often deprived of certified pathologists who can diagnose pathology data as is legally required. In one of our rural centres at Balasinor, run along with the Torrent group, in Mahisagar district of Gujarat, we had set up laboratory facilities but were unable to find a pathologist to run it consistently. We then switched over to telepathology method with the help of Relox. We set up a complete virtual laboratory in our centre in Kheda district ie set up equipment and software,” said Nikhil Kharod, CEO of the foundation.
TF has, since then, upgraded their virtual laboratories in Kapadvanj (situated around 60 km from Ahmedabad), Balasinor (located 90 km from Ahmedabad) and in Anand (80km from Ahmedabad). They linked their existing laboratory equipment with software developed by Relox. Together, these centres cater to more than 120 people every day. “We are in the process of converting our Tarapur centre into a virtual one as well,” added Kharod.
Not only does it enhance the quality of healthcare and accessibility, but telepathology also reduces medical cost by providing services to patients who may lack the financial means to go to pathologists in faraway centres.
“We use two machines – the biochemistry analyser (which does about 50 routine tests) and the complete blood count/ haematology analyser. On an average we are able to study about 80% of the cases that come to us,” explained Adeshara.
He also explained how setting up a virtual laboratory, with machines and supporting equipment, will cost around Rs 7-8 lakh. On the other hand, converting an existing laboratory to a virtual centre will come to around Rs 1.5 lakh. A yearly maintenance for software upkeep, he added, comes to around Rs 20,000.
“We have converted smaller labs that were run by technicians to virtual ones at Udhna and Mandvi. We have also set up a centre at the Samved Superspeciality Hospital in Dholka, some 45 km from Ahmedabad. The hospital authorities had wanted to build a fully-functional laboratory but did not have the infrastructure or enough manpower to run one. We have now associated with five pathologists who cater to the current pathologist’s needs,” Adeshara added.
Paresh Narendrakumar Jhurmarwala, 53, another director of Relox, said, “We have integrated various technologies to come up with a comprehensive network of pathologists, lab technicians and IT experts. The pathologists wanted the same quality of visuals that they have while viewing pathological data through a microscope. They also said that they needed to see samples from various angles. So we came up with a technological solution where they can see a small video of samples in high resolutions.”
What Jhurmarwala also stressed upon is the pressing need to create a solid database of pathological data by linking the state’s primary health centres with virtual laboratories. The move, he said, will aid clinical research and improve healthcare. He also added how diagnostic test results derived through telepathology can be linked to Aadhaar cards along with a patient’s past health records, ailments and allergies.