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doctHERs: Remote patient care with female doctors at the fore

Updated Jan 24, 2017 03:04pm

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Out of the many female doctors who graduate from medical schools every year, most do not continue with the profession after getting their degrees. This is true in Pakistan, even though women far outweigh the number of men in any medical school incoming class, due to cultural pressures and domestic taboos.

When girls are discouraged from being full-time doctors, their potential is clamped down. Meanwhile, the huge gap between the number of available doctors and the number of patients grows even wider.

Enter doctHERs. While the government is busy re-working quotas and policies, this startup is taking the problem head-on with an innovative approach: merging online technology with healthcare, to create a marketplace where female doctors can access patients remotely.

All treatment procedures are carried out by the nurse under the virtual supervision of the doctHER. ─Photo courtesy doctHERs
All treatment procedures are carried out by the nurse under the virtual supervision of the doctHER. ─Photo courtesy doctHERs

doctHERs is available to patients in both rural and urban areas. While challenges differ in the two areas, gains are the same: doctHERs creates employment opportunities for women, and improves the quality of healthcare in the region.

Related: 50pc of female doctors never work after graduation

How doctHERs works

The clinics operate in a simple manner. Nurses are available at various time slots to conduct the patients’ history and examination. The details are then communicated to the assigned female doctor, who in collaboration with the nurse provides the needed advice and treatment.

All treatment procedures are carried out by the nurse under the virtual supervision of the doctHER. The programme consists of peripheral diagnostic tools as well, so the doctor can assess her patient’s vital signs remotely.

doctHERs clinics are equipped with diagnostic tools, treatment facilities and professionals to help with the next steps. —Photo courtesy doctHERs
doctHERs clinics are equipped with diagnostic tools, treatment facilities and professionals to help with the next steps. —Photo courtesy doctHERs

Since the clinic is dedicated to treating patients under a cost-effective price, it charges a minimum of Rs100 to a maximum of Rs1,200 per patient and virtual clinic consultation. 50 per cent of the revenue is paid to the doctHER network, and 25 per cent to the nurses and community health workers.

The remaining 15pc covers operational costs, yielding a net profit of 10%. In order to assist patients who cannot afford healthcare, the organisation is also working on incorporating a 'Zakat and Welfare Model.'

Improved healthcare

doctHERs launched its first clinic in Model Colony in May 2015. The clinic includes a mini pharmacy, a family planning lab and a lab collection. The center has seen up to 3,600 patients already, who have visited the clinic seeking treatment for diabetes, eye care, skin issues and a range of other medical issues. Patients also come seeking ultrasounds and specialised treatments.

doctHERs vision emphasises on improving care in both rural and urban areas. In accordance with this goal, clinics have also been set up in Manshera in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Manshera clinic treated 250 patients on its inauguration day alone.

The DoctHERs clinic at Manshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The clinic treated 250 patients on its inauguration day. —Photo courtesy DoctHERs
The DoctHERs clinic at Manshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The clinic treated 250 patients on its inauguration day. —Photo courtesy DoctHERs

The organisation trains and employs female nurses, community health workers and community midwives to assist doctors. 'MidWives assist doctHERs', is a specific campaign that hires midwives and nurses in assessing patients at points-of-care (PoC) set up at the clinics.

A patient communicates with a doctor at a Point of Care in Ilyas Goth, Karachi. —Photo courtesy doctHERs
A patient communicates with a doctor at a Point of Care in Ilyas Goth, Karachi. —Photo courtesy doctHERs

Adjusting to technology

Of course, the use of technology raises eyebrows in a culture that does not support the idea of the Internet as a positive force. Hardly 15.9 per cent of Pakistan’s population uses the Internet, while the rest are only adjusting to the use of cell phones.

Co-founders of doctHERs believe that changing the mindset of the community will be integral in the startup’s success — people have to believe in the advent of technology. To deal with this hostility, doctHERs is using individual mobilisation and has launched a massive door-to-door campaign.

But implementing a system like doctHERs in areas where people have never used a computer or a smart phone requires dedicated efforts. To address peoples' lack of comfort, training and mock sessions are held in areas with clinics, so users can familiarise themselves with the system, and know where to go for medical help.

Materials used in training programmes to familiarise communities with the use of technology. — Photo courtesy doctHERs
Materials used in training programmes to familiarise communities with the use of technology. — Photo courtesy doctHERs

Along with that, awareness and advertising social campaigns are also being carried out to eliminate fears associated with technology. doctHERs is encouraging both patients and doctors to join the network.

Dr. Iffat Zaffar, co-founder of doctHERs believes that digital health is the future. "In 10 years, it will be a part of the healthcare reforms," she says. "Not only will tele-medicine become a subject in medical schools but rather will be a specialised field on its own."

A doctHERs training camp at Ilyas Goth, Karachi. — Photo courtesy doctHERs
A doctHERs training camp at Ilyas Goth, Karachi. — Photo courtesy doctHERs

Paving their own paths

Despite the challenges, the co-founders see a prosperous future for the organisation and hope to launch at least 50 more clinics by the end of 2016.

Patients in session with a doctor at doctHERs' clinic in Model Colony, Karachi. —Photo courtesy doctHERs
Patients in session with a doctor at doctHERs' clinic in Model Colony, Karachi. —Photo courtesy doctHERs

doctHERs' outreach is a huge step forward in promoting women in leadership positions. Their training networks and conferences have engaged more than 300,000 female physicians in Pakistan.

According to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, more than 70 per cent medical students are women, and yet only 23 per cent are registered female doctors. DocHers is a small but significant way to rectify the gap between trained and practicing female doctors, nurses and community health workers.

As Dr. Sara Khurram, co-founder of doctHERs says: “Women should not have to choose between having a family and a career. It is integral for their existence that they pave their own path.”

A mother brings her child to a doctHERs clinic for treatment. — Photo courtesy doctHERs
A mother brings her child to a doctHERs clinic for treatment. — Photo courtesy doctHERs

Farah Saleem is an educationist, writer and digital strategist.

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Comments (18) Closed



Mutahhir Jan 26, 2016 01:09pm

A very good initiative for a country like Pakistan. The female doctors can work from home or any other assigned premises or clinic.

Ata Jan 26, 2016 03:28pm

What a great initiative. Bravo.

Muhammad Arshad Jan 26, 2016 04:48pm

Nice

Musarat Jan 26, 2016 04:54pm

Pakistan is changing alot in this terrorism decade. We had enough no one can stop our women from achieving their goals. Women power

navin bhardwaj Jan 26, 2016 05:15pm

Excellent use of technology and some amazing numbers there in this article. A similar initiative is needed in the areaof education as well. Prof sugata mitra has done some wonderful work both in India as well as through his association with the university of Newcastle. The sub continent can benefit greatly from these initiatives. Im sure we in India can learn from the lessons of the DoctHers initiative in Pakistan

global citizen Jan 26, 2016 05:23pm

more power to female doctors!

HBK Jan 26, 2016 07:38pm

BRILLIANT! Who says we can't serve Pakistan. Proud of this DOER; TALKERS who always sketch dismal picture should take notes.

Tariq, Lahore Jan 26, 2016 07:57pm

This is a great initiative it fills the professional deficit and overcomes the social taboos!

Hamaad Jan 26, 2016 09:37pm

Great to see Pakistani women progress and prosper at all levels. Win-win situation for both Doctors and patients.

Amar Jan 26, 2016 09:44pm

This is great, as women doctors gets chance to practice the medicine, and take care of society. But I would still suggest, that the society needs to change, and government should open up small clinics in all sectors and areas of Pakistan, and utilize the services of these doctors as much as possible. At times it is better when the real doctors sees the patients in person rather than getting the history from nurse. This is a great positive step towards taking care of our community and society. Great work...

Dr. Sehar Khan Jan 27, 2016 03:05am

Well Done....God Bless You!!!

Alla Bux Jan 27, 2016 05:36am

Instead of wasting precious Medical College seats on women who have no interest in continuing in the profession, the Government should make it mandatory for them to work for at least 10 years after graduation or ask them to pay back every rupee spent on their education with interest. Pakistan needs doctors especially lady doctors if we want to reduce pre-natal, maternal and infant mortality which is very high in our country. In fact Bangladesh ahead of us in these metrics.

Madan Jan 27, 2016 06:54am

This is a great start for health issue in Pakistan and can be adopted by other countries like India.In India,doctors can be male or female, on duty at any place at any time of the day and night.I don't understand why the Pakistan government spends so much money on education and training of female doctors when 50% of them go to their kitchen duties with a medical degree in their pockets.Is it not a waste of money of the poor tax payers?The security conditions in Pakistan should be improved for ladies and then,perhaps,lady doctors can be encouraged to work independently anywhere at anytime.If nurses can work independently with internet contact with the lady doctors,why can't they work together?

Jalaluddin S. Hussain Jan 27, 2016 08:11am

As a Canadian of Pakistani origin, I would rather like to see more and more health institutions built with Diaspora Pakistanis help.

In any case, in this small world we can help in spite of a great distance.

The other way to help is to support authentic NGO'S working within Pakistan.

ysk Jan 27, 2016 08:57am

its amazing what can be achieved with vision and technology

Sohail Husyen Jan 27, 2016 12:17pm

Great initiative Pakistani women progress and prosper at all levels. Win-win situation for both Doctors and patients.Great women's progress and prosper at all levels.

Jawaid Islam Jan 27, 2016 02:20pm

A great initiative indeed! What is needed is to reduce the number of seats for female in medical colleges. When they study so hard and give up medical practice for rearing their families, why at all bother to spend tuition fee during the 5 years or so of excruciating hard work! Teaching is better suited for females who can earn part time and still have time to take care of their families.

nabil Jan 27, 2016 08:57pm

For country like Pakistan to have field doctors to create on-line medical assessment initiative to benefit people who not able or those who live in remote areas have no access to medical advice or medicine. I dearly hope your program initiative big success for future, please try to maintain your fees as your well aware this still is a young country with population of poor people. CONGRADULATION