Troubles With Translation, Interpretation, and TeleHealth in Rural India

The telehealth and telemedicine industries have seen a major increase most notably since the global Covid-19 pandemic. Though the telehealth and telemedicine industries have seen many advances, they are still facing challenges in terms of being made more readily available, especially in the more impoverished and the rural areas of India. What are the problems though, and what is being done to rectify the situation?


Translation, Interpretation and the Telehealth and Telemedicine Industry in India

If there is a sample group of ten thousand people or more, how many are likely to need to utilize telehealth services? The reason for asking this question is relevant because at the end of the day, there are nearly twenty thousand languages in India.

However, given the sheer volume of languages including many which are more akin to dialects, the focus here will be restricted to those languages with ten thousand or more native speakers which still indicates a pressing need for medical translators and interpreters.

Absolutely nothing in the healthcare industry in general, much less in the telehealth industry will work without a sufficient level of interpretation services to handle the many language requirements of rural India. There will never be any shortage in the need for interpretation services in such a large and diverse nation as India, more notably in the rural areas where the national or even State-level languages are not always spoken in great numbers.


Translation, Interpretation and Language by the Numbers

According to the Gulf News, there are 19,569 languages and dialects in India. There are only two official national languages, though the Constitution allows for each State to determine its own official language or languages. Thus, there are 22 generally recognized official languages in India.

Fortunately, this covers around 96.7% of the population who are fluent in or native to these languages. Unfortunately, that still leaves around forty million people who are not fluent in any of these languages and who will need more specialized medical interpreters. Why?

What is the potential impact on both society and the economy with forty million people infected with the coronavirus, yet who lack even the most basic understanding of the virus, much less how or why the infection is transmitted around the general population. Many of these rural people will be constantly traveling back and forth between the larger cities and the more rural areas as they follow job opportunities.

The need for certified medical interpretation services is even more prevalent during a global medical crisis than it is in normal times, but even then, there are still some major shortcomings which must be addressed in order to maximize the benefits of the telehealth and telemedicine industries.


Telehealth, Telemedicine and Infrastructure in Rural India

The average internet access in large urban centers in India is over 97% but only 34% of the population lives in these large urban areas. This leaves 66% of the population in India living in more rural areas, where internet access is only about 25% of the population has access to the internet according to the BBC in a report published in October of 2019.

There are many determining factors for people who are living in the more rural areas that make this subject all the more important to them in particular. The people living in more rural areas are much less likely to have access to meaningful and effective healthcare and medical treatment. This is precisely the reason that the telehealth industry needs to be expanded to these areas.

The problems in rural Indian areas are two-fold, in part due to the lack of devices and access, and in part because of the lack of the necessary infrastructure to support large-scale internet access in these rural areas. This is something that has been addressed by the national government, but not to the extent that would be necessary in order to rectify this situation.

The digital divide extends further into the areas of age, location, gender, income and education as well. Perhaps one of the most alarming points of concern should be the lack of internet access to women living in more rural areas of India.

This is an area that should cause at least some worries because of the unique nature of healthcare for women. According to the Global System for Mobile Communications or GSMA, only around 16% of all the women in India, including those in both rural and urban environments, routinely use mobile devices and data.

In rural India, the role of the woman is generally more dependent on the man in many rural areas of India, and as such, they do not always have direct access to the computers or even portable devices that would be necessary, even if a more comprehensive national telehealth system were to be put into place.

Additional concerns are notable in terms of another under-represented class in more rural areas. Many of the tribal communities of India can be found in the forests in and around Madhya Pradesh and in the deserts of Rajasthan. Both of these areas are very lacking in terms of internet access and the necessary equipment to get on to the internet. It looks however, as if the national government of India is at least making some strides to address these concerns, though to what extent they will be successful remains to be seen.

[highlight color=”yellow”]Also Read: Mapping The Evolution Of Healthcare in India[/highlight]


Rural India, Internet Infrastructure and National Initiatives

The telehealth industry relies on the internet if it is ever to be effective, but this requires at the very least, the necessary infrastructure being in place so that people have the capacity to access the internet.

It is true that data access charges are substantially lower than they have been previously, as are many devices and even full computer systems. However, if there is no infrastructure in place, there is still no means by which people will be able to take advantage of these more affordable prices to access an internet that is not there to begin with.

With the proper infrastructure in place, an enterprising commercial interest could easily establish telehealthcare facilities, using remote, simultaneous video medical interpreters and solve a great many of these challenges. According to the Economic Times of India, the government does seem to be willing to move down this path, though how effective this program will ultimately be remains to be seen

This program was announced in December of 2019 by the Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who specifically noted that these programs would be implemented to ensure that virtually everyone has at least the potential for internet access by putting the infrastructure in place to guarantee connectivity nationwide.

It is interesting to note that the Communications Minister also officially recognized the need for this increase and specifically related it to telehealth and healthcare and medical services, specifically noting that this project was for “education, health, entrepreneurship and development” and further pointing out that it would increase internet access in more rural areas.


Ideal Future Solutions for Translation, Interpretation and the Telehealthcare Industry in Rural India

The entire purpose of the telehealth industry is to help those who are unable to access more direct healthcare and medical treatment. So what is the most viable solution for this problem facing rural India once all of the necessary infrastructure is in place?

There does seem to be a grand opportunity for the more enterprising souls, though it may take an amount of lobbying and perhaps even some willing investors. What better solution than one that helps the people who need assistance the most, all the while making an excellent living?

Companies like Credihealth strive to make telehealth care and treatment available to people virtually anywhere. Were an enterprising company to perhaps partner with a computer manufacturer or a computer sales company that would be a good start.

Add in a partnership with a translation company that has the capacity not only to serve for live, remote video medical interpretation and medical document translation services, and the picture would be almost complete.

Virtually all that would remain to be accomplished would be to set up shops throughout rural India where people could have local access to modern hospitals, the best doctors and the same exceptional healthcare that is currently available in the larger urban areas of India.

Such an operation may or may not need to be subsidized by the Indian government, at least in more marginalized areas, but it is not outside the realm of possibility. It is not even difficult to imagine that such an operation could function as a public service, or even a utility of sorts.

What is certain that this would ensure the availability of telehealth and telemedicine services in even the most remote areas of India, while at the same time assuring that there were no more concerns regarding certified medical translation and interpretation services, quality health care and easy access for all people equally.


Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s). 

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