India, like many countries around the world, is fighting through the COVID-19 outbreak.
With over five-million cases and the country’s healthcare system being pushed to the edge, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are on the front line.
Yet, not all the fighting is being done in hospitals and clinics, some of it is being done over the phone.
OET Hero Ekta is a doctor volunteering with an initiative that connects doctors with people who think they may have COVID-19. She is using her clinical communication skills to help triage patients and providing them with valuable advice.
“Founders Vs COVID is a great initiative that relies on a volunteer doctors to provide guidance to people over the phone,” Ekta said. “We triage people over the phone, providing help where we can.”
“The initiative has grown very quickly; doctors have completed more than 12,000 consultations and are now helping three to four state governments.”
Helping authorities triage patients
“The system is based on an application that shows us up to 2500 patients a day to triage.”
“We triage people over the phone, we ask them a number of questions to determine their symptoms and whether they’re part of an at-risk demographic.”
“The volunteer doctors I work with then offer them advice based on official sources and connect them with government health centres if required.”
But it’s not just healthcare advice on offer – many of the patients are in need of general COVID-19 information too.
“We provide as much as we can, but we make sure we put them in touch with government departments when it is needed.”
The service provides one-on-one consultations between doctors and patients, which has become more important as many are avoiding diagnosis due to the stigma that has been attached to COVID-19 patients.
“Because people are stigmatised, if they are infected by COVID-19, many don’t seek medical advice out of fear.”
“We offer a fully confidential service over the phone, which helps them get the advice they need without the pressure.”
Start-ups fighting COVID
Founders Vs Covid-19 is one of many initiatives and start-ups that are aiming to curb the spread of COVID-19 and helping people currently afflicted.
Another example is the Kerala based start-up Asimov Robotics, which has deployed robots outside government buildings that dispense hand sanitiser and provide official health messages.
Other start-ups are turning their attention to the dissemination of official information. QKopy has helped the Kerala government launch an app called GoK-Kerala Direct.
The app provides COVID-19 updates and information via phone and SMS to non-smartphones users (which make up less than half of India’s phone users).
Just trying to do my bit
Echoing all the volunteers, Ekta says she is just trying to do her bit.
“I love working with everyone, they’re all selfless and willing to give so much. They’re such an amazing group of healthcare professionals. Truly generous”
With older parents, Ekta has had to be extra careful when it comes to the COVID-19. Like many she has taken precautions to protect vulnerable communities, including staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel.
“It is great to just be able to help so many people while staying at home.”
But unlike face-to-face consultations, telemedicine requires a slightly different approach.
“I can’t see them or their symptoms, so it becomes even more important to listen and communicate clearly. You need to be an active listener and clarify information to make sure what they are saying is correct.”
“You still need to empathise, show you care and respond to their emotional concerns as well as their medical ones. This is especially important as so many are calling out of anxiety.”
“But it is different on the phone, where you can’t see body cues and their facial expressions. It takes some getting used to.”
With the NHS and other healthcare providers introducing telehealth and mobile health services, it is important healthcare professionals looking to work in an English-speaking environment build the skills needed to provide this kind of consultation.
Hopefully through efforts from everyone including volunteers like Ekta, we will slow the spread of COVID-19 across the world.
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