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The doctor is online

By Felix Renganathan
July 30, 1999

A man keels over, hand clutching his chest, and gasping for breath. As he recognizes that he is in the throes of a cardiac arrest, he stretches for the telephone but sees the carpet oncoming instead.

Even before he hits the floor, signals from a nearby network-enabled monitoring device have shot out through the ether, and emergency medical technicians are racing towards his home. Seven minutes later, they are by his side, hooking him up to a defibrillator and administering treatment. Taken to a hospital for further treatment, he survives the attack, but only just.

Farfetched? Perhaps not if the aspirations of Malaysia's telemedicine project were to come true. Three years ago, telemedicine was identified as a key application to jumpstart the country's testbed for new, unproven products and services--the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).

Leading experts in the field of healthcare delivery and management were to be invited to chart new waters in the 50km by 15km area south of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

If the MSC was to be Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's crowning glory in his 18-year premiership, then the telemedicine project could be likened to the jewel in that crown. A physician by training, Dr Mahathir ran his own practice in small-town Alor Setar in the northern rural state of Kedah, prior to descending to the political arena.

He also married a doctor and had seven children; although none have chosen to follow their parents' medical footsteps.

Telemedicine then became Dr Mahathir's pet dream. Early on in a speech hyping the MSC in 1996, his wish list included Malaysia becoming a regional center for telemedicine by the year 2000.

"With our Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western medical knowledge, we are a natural hub. Rural clinics can be connected to medical experts from Malaysia and to the great clinics worldwide using tele-instruments for remote diagnosis. The doctor no longer has to be in the same room as the patient," he said.

Malaysia's parliament quickly passed into law the Telemedicine Act in April 1997 to enable the project to get off the ground.



Felix Renganathan is a part-time freelance writer and full-time programmer who prefers deciphering security flaws to decoding sentences. Email us your comments.


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