Telemedicine Startup Connects Patients and Doctors in Rural India

Published in Insight - March/April 2017

Neha Goel says telemedicine manifests in many ways. “There are many definitions, but it always uses information and communication technologies for diagnoses or treatment,” says the Ph.D. candidate in health sciences informatics in the school of medicine.

To tailor a telemedicine approach for remote Indian villages where there are no doctors, Goel teamed up with classmates Amal Alam and Emily Eggert. Under the leadership of Soumyadipta Acharya, a research professor in the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, they set up a nonprofit called Intelehealth and built and tested a mobile application for a smartphone or tablet.

“There are very different software needs in India compared to the U.S.,” explains Goel. “Often, videoconferencing isn’t possible because there isn’t enough bandwidth.”

They devised an application that prompts a health worker (the equivalent to a nurse’s aide) to ask a patient certain questions. Based on the answers, the app presents follow-up questions, and the health worker can check symptoms with a physical exam. The results are then sent to a cloud-based health record system that a remote doctor can review and then use to make recommendations.

A pilot study showed the interface was easy for the health workers to navigate and the software was reliable. Goel says the remote physicians were comfortable using the system to make a diagnosis, order tests or prescriptions, and make referrals. In one case, an 8-month-old was diagnosed with spina bifida and referred to a hospital for treatment.

The Intelehealth team is excited to participate in the 2016–2017 Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab, which provides mentorship to assist new nonprofits in refining their business and technology. In December, the lab received $100,000 from the Baltimore Development Corporation’s Innovation Fund to support entrepreneurship.