NASIK: 104 turned out to be the magic figure for a nurse in her anxious hours at a rural hospital in Thane as she has to handle a 12-year-old boy bitten by a viper. Neither she knows how to treat the wound, nor any medical officer is present to consult.

All that she remembers is 104, a toll-free number that allows one to speak to doctors for any kind of medical assistance. The nurse does that and is asked to wash the wound with water and give the patient some water to drink.

She is then asked to check the blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen level and saturation. Finally, she is given step-by-step instructions on how to give adaptive support ventilation to the child and the necessary medication to keep a check on the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure.

The nurse thanks the doctor and finishes the call. When the paediatrician from the health advice call centre calls back after an hour, the nurse thanks the medical officer and informs him that the patient is stable and doing well.

This is just one among thousands of success stories. Since the 104 health advice on call facility has been initiated by the state government on a public private partnership (PPP) model between the National Health Mission, Maharashtra and Parimal Swasthya four years ago, it has been a massive success. The facility became operational in January 2012 with the objective to provide round the clock health advice to health workers of Maharashtra so that they can take quick decisions and provide smooth, effective and qualitative health care and speciality advice to their patients.

In less than four years, the health advice call centre has handled over 19.33 lakh calls. The facility deals with about a thousand calls daily.

The head of the department of the state health call centre, Niraja Banker said, “We also have a facility of handling grievances of health workers and the general public. many times, there are complaints related to health facilities, schemes, medicines prescribed at Government Hospitals. We follow an escalation matrix to get these problems resolved. Furthermore, in January, we made blood-on-call open to the general public. The objective of starting the scheme was to help the patients’ relatives by making blood available at a fixed rate by the government from allocated district blood banks for various ailments and operations.”

“In February this year, mental health counselling was also started to address the stigma attached with mental health problems. It provides counselling for all ailments related to mental health,” Banker added.

The panel of doctors at the call centre said the response to the mental health counselling has been enthusiastic over the past nine months. There have received a lot of calls from students as well as from debt-ridden farmers, IT professionals and even housewives.

An official said people are sometimes so distressed that they go into depression and do not realise what step they should take. This is when they call 104. The sooner they call for mental health counselling the better. In fact people have started calling in large numbers. Over the past nine months, there have been 8,166 calls related to mental health counselling, which is over 906 calls every month.

The 104 health advice call centre is located in Pune. Around 20 to 25 medical experts accept calls at every shift during all the three shifts. The medical experts are available 24×7. Maximum calls are from the rural areas as people there are unaware of many illnesses and often there us an absence of medical officers. There is also a team of specialists like public health officers, gynaecologists, paediatricians who can guide the callers.

Banker said, the health advice call centre was originally started to help around 60,000, Asha workers from across the state. These Asha workers move about from house to house to make enquires about various problems in their respective villages. Now, however, they are accepting calls made by the general public.



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