This new technology, based on "Wi-Fi" wireless networks, allows eye specialists at Aravind Eye Hospital at Theni in the southern India state of Tamil Nadu to interview and examine patients in five remote clinics via a high-quality video conference.
Just 17 months old, the pilot project has proved so successful that the partners are announcing this week that it will be expanded in the state to include five hospitals that will be linked to 50 clinics that are expected to serve half a million patients each year.
"The information technology revolution holds tremendous potential for addressing problems in developing countries," said Eric Brewer, a UC Berkeley professor of computer science and director of the Intel Research Berkeley lab who initiated efforts to develop the technology. "Historically, though, most projects have been either too expensive or too technologically complex to be used in poor, rural areas. What we've done here is develop a simple, inexpensive software and hardware system that can provide villages with a high-bandwidth connection to computer networks in cities as far as 50 miles away."
With high-speed links to the hospital, three of the clinics, also known as vision centers, screen about 1,500 patients each month. (Numbers are not yet available for the two other centers, which came online in May 2006.) Centers are run by a nurse trained in eye care. Patients first see the nurse, then spend about five minutes on a web camera consulting with an Aravind doctor. If the doctor determines that a closer examination or an operation is necessary, the patient is given a hospital appointment.