The Virtual Doctors Will See You Now
The Virtual Doctors are making smart use of smart phones. This innovative and dynamic telemedicine charity are determined to change the way rural healthcare workers access specialist medical advice and medical education in Zambia, by using smart phones to educate healthcare workers and save lives.
They’ve created an app which gives healthcare workers access to a (volunteer) medical specialist for medical advice. This enables volunteers in the UK to help with a patient in rural Africa - something which, even by their standards, feels extraordinary! The healthcare workers can then treat patients on-site, reducing their referrals to hospital. This can make a huge difference to the patient and the community.
They aim to improve patient outcomes, reduce unnecessary referrals to hospitals, and provide education to the healthcare worker. Currently, they cover 750,000 people in rural Zambia via 32 sites.
Hospitals are often long distances away from rural communities, resulting in transportation and other costs for both the patient and the community. Every question on the app results in case-based education which gives the healthcare worker the skills to treat the condition in the future and thereby improve health outcomes in their community - it also enables the patient to receive specialist advice more quickly, saving valuable time.
The Virtual Doctors App also provides an educational services. Their forum and educational podcasts provide up to date medical education. This prevents the healthcare workers relying on external courses for which they need to leave their posts unmanned. Medical apps and websites on the smartphone allow for independent research and learning.
The Resuscitation Council (UK) is pleased to support these initiatives, and has recently opened up our iResus app to be available to the Virtual Doctors. Having iResus on the Virtual Doctor smartphones will enable the healthcare workers to learn up to date resuscitation algorithms and refer to the flowcharts during a resuscitation event, thereby saving lives.
But there are challenges faced by the Virtual Doctors. Funding is a major challenge for this small charity. Unsurprisingly, there are also logistical challenges relating to the phones and mobile networks.
In spite of these challenges Virtual Doctors continue to expand and grow.
They will be in 50 sites by the end of 2017, and following interest from the Government of Malawi, they are aiming to start trialing their service in Malawi in 2018. You can learn more about the work of Virtual Doctors by visiting their website at https://www.virtualdoctors.org/