“I cannot feel the sensation of the baby’s movement in my womb for the last one week and my regular doctor is not available,” said apprehensively an eight months pregnant woman from rural Telangana as she spoke to gynaecologist Rama Devi, who is currently providing medical consultation on phone to the patients with medical emergencies not related to COVID-19. The doctor advised the patient to immediately get her pregnancy scanned while providing her a general prescription.
From April 1, a group of doctors, information technology professionals, non-profit organisations and social activists have come together to form ‘Forum for People’s Health’ to give medical advice to the patients through a 24*7 helpline number [040 4821 4595] during the ensuing lockdown amid coronavirus pandemic. Rama Devi, Telangana state Vice President of Jana Vignana Vedika, is part of the network of 170 doctors currently providing services under the initiative. Presently, the service is available in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
“With the surge in COVID-19 cases, the government hospitals across districts are being used exclusively for the treatment of patients with the coronavirus disease and most of the private hospitals and small nursing homes have stopped their services. This is causing trouble to thousands of general patients with other medical emergencies or issues,” said Rama Devi, while speaking to NewsClick. She explained that under this forum, doctors with a wide range of specialisations are voluntarily providing service to the patients during this lockdown. “Among the calls we are receiving, 70% of cases are ‘non-emergency’ and the remaining need immediate medical attention.”
In the last six days, over 3,500 patients have availed the service for medical consultations using phones, say the doctors.
Kiran Chandra, general secretary of Free Software Movement in India, one of the organisers of the initiative, explained how the initiative is working. “IT professionals are assigned to receive calls from the patients who take details such as current problem, symptoms, patient’s medical history and so on and then connect them to a suitable doctor for consultation. The volunteers also transcript the doctors’ suggestions and prescriptions to send to the patients through messages or any other messaging services.”
According to the doctors, patients with gynaecology-related problems, people with pre-existing medical history of blood pressure, diabetes and senior citizens are among those who are availing the service. “The IT professionals are working round the clock in a coordinated manner with doctors and are ensuring that the services are available to all the people contacting the call centre,” said Dr Sambi Reddy.
“We are receiving calls from patients with general queries as well as reporting complicated issues,” said Dr Saradha of the forum. Speaking to NewsClick, she said: “A 22-year-old pregnant woman from a village in Nalgonda contacted me complaining about labour pain. Sensing the emergency, our forum immediately sent an ambulance to the patient’s residence and shifted her to a hospital.”
“Besides providing medical advisory in a virtual space, the forum has five field volunteers in every district of the two states, who are coordinating with doctors and patients to provide ambulance services when needed,” added Chandra.
Many patients with serious illnesses are risking their lives due to incorrect guidance from some registered medical practitioners (RMPs), especially in rural areas during these lockdown times, said Cardiologist Dr Madhu Babu. “On Sunday, one family of a woman suffering from chest pain contacted me asking for a medical prescription. At that time, the woman was checked by a local RMP who did not realise the severity of the woman’s condition. After checking the photocopies of the patient’s recent ECG report received through messages, it was found that the patient is prone to cardiac arrest any time and the family was advised to shift her to a hospital immediately,” said Babu.
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