Acknowledging the delay in arrival, under-equipped in-car facilities and inaccessibility of government run ambulance services in rural areas, the Centre announced that it will soon launch a nation-wide mobile app-based service to ensure timely arrival of emergency ambulances, at minimal costs. It plans to simplify the process in three steps—one, the app will serve as an aggregator on which private ambulance owners will empanel themselves. This will make sure that the ambulances will arrive the moment patients book them on the app. Two, patients will make the payments at the time of booking itself and payments to the drivers and the para medics inside the ambulance will be made by the owners of the vehicle. Three, a central call centre will be set up which will assist patients in bookings and other services through a toll free number.
The Union ministry of health and family welfare has devised this self-sustaining method to reach out to a number of patients who lose their lives because of delays in the arrival of emergency ambulances, not just in remote areas but also in urban and semi-urban areas.
Until now, under the National Health Mission, the Centre has been buying ambulances and making payments to the support staff, thereby making it an expensive affair. "India has a long way to go when it comes to upgrading its fleet of ambulances to be able to properly tackle complicated emergency medical procedures en route to the hospital. ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulances must be well equipped, with trained manpower along with the tools they need to save or stabilise patients. They house basic diagnostic instruments, emergency life saving medicines, I.V. fluids, oxygen cylinders, AMBU bags (to give artificial breaths manually), dressing material and stretchers, pulse oximeters, cardiac monitors (to monitor heart rhythm), defibrillators (to shock the heart when it stops beating), ventilators (to give artificial breaths), infusion pumps (to inject emergency medicines in a controlled manner), and a suction machine (to suck out secretions in mouth to clear air passage). They are, for all intents and purposes, mobile hospitals, capable of handling critical cases until they can be moved to more permanent facilities," says Dr Santosh Datar, consultant doctor and medical director, Ziqitza Health Care Ltd, an emergency healthcare service provider.
The ministry made it clear that strict specifications will be given to ambulance owners to standardise the services and every such vehicle will have to follow the guidelines. "We need to see how this technology takes off, because many in the rural and semi rural areas may still not be able to access it if they don't have such a mobile phone. And for those who do have, how smooth will the user interface be? Will it really work as professionally as the other aggregators?," asks Dr Gurneet Singh Sawhney, a neurosurgeon based in Mumbai.