11 Mar What New Delhi’s free clinics can teach America about fixing its broken health care system
Rupandeep Kaur, 20 weeks pregnant, arrived at a medical clinic looking fatigued and ready to collapse. After being asked her name and address, she was taken to see a physician who reviewed her medical history, asked several questions, and ordered a series of tests including blood and urine. These tests revealed that her fetus was healthy but Kaur had dangerously low hemoglobin and blood pressure levels. The physician, Alka Choudhry, ordered an ambulance to take her to a nearby hospital.
All of this, including the medical tests, happened in 15 minutes at the Peeragarhi Relief Camp in New Delhi, India. The entire process was automated — from check-in, to retrieval of medical records, to testing and analysis and ambulance dispatch. The hospital also received Kaur’s medical records electronically. There was no paperwork filled out, no bills sent to the patient or insurance company, no delay of any kind. Yes, it was all free.
The hospital treated Kaur for mineral and protein deficiencies and released her the same day. Had she not received timely treatment, she may have had a miscarriage or lost her life.
This was more efficient and advanced than any clinic I have seen in the West. And Kaur wasn’t the only patient, there were at least a dozen other people who received free medical care and prescriptions in the one hour that I spent at Peeragrahi in early March.
The facility, called the “mohalla” (or people’s) clinic, was opened in July 2015 by Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal. This is the first of 1,000 clinics that he announced would be opened in India’s capital for the millions of people in need. Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain, who came up with the idea for the clinics, told me he believes that not only will they reduce suffering, but also overall costs — because people will get timely care and not be a burden on hospital emergency rooms.
The technology that made the instant diagnosis possible at Peeragarhi was medical device called the Swasthya Slate. This $600 device, the size of a cake tin, performs 33 common medical tests including blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, blood haemoglobin, urine protein and glucose. And it tests for diseases such as malaria, dengue, hepatitis, HIV, and typhoid. Each test only takes a minute or two and the device uploads its data to a cloud-based medical-record management system that can be accessed by the patient.