Doctors Partner with NGO to launch COVID-19 Telemedicine service

✍️By Special Correspondent

To tackle the unforeseen surge in COVID-19 cases in a dire second wave of the pandemic, the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum (WBDF) with a base of 150+ doctors from across the State have come up with a Kolkata based NGO – SwitchON Foundation to launch an online telemedicine helpline service. 

150 Doctors from West Bengal Doctors Forum are giving free telemedicine service and over 100 Volunteers including SwitchON joined hand with voluntary support to manage the call center and connect COVID patients with doctors that include various specialists like pediatrics, psychologists, etc.

This service is dedicated to isolated/quarantined COVID positive /mildly symptomatic and asymptomatic persons. The helpline is available from 7 am to 12 midnight. With our State healthcare systems stretched thin, the telemedicine helpline has been created in an effort to help mildly symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients who are currently in home isolation to take advice from doctors regarding treating COVID with home care. This is a philanthropic service initiated by the doctors of WBDF where SwitchON Is actively supporting with the necessary technical support. 

Dr. Chaki of West Bengal Doctors Forum said “We from WBDF are extremely concerned about the sufferings of people due to the havoc caused by the second wave of COVID19. Those in-home isolation are being given support via various platforms including WBDF- SWITCH on the joint endeavor.”

The helpline service is available in both Bengali, and Hindi and has English-speaking volunteers also. In addition to connecting patients to doctors, the service also directs patients looking for Hospital Beds, Oxygen cylinders, Ambulance to the government helpline number services through a WhatsApp number (+91 7595067983). 

Vinay Jaju of SwitchON Foundation said “We reached out to West Bengal Doctors Forum who were doing a tremendous job of supporting patients over the phone and we recognized the need to set up a call center to manage all their calls. So we set up one in a record time of 3 days with over 100 volunteers from all walks of life. It is an honor to stand by our medical practitioners during these times ” 

The helpline has already serviced 10,000 since the day it was launched and on average receives over 1000 calls on a daily basis. Seeing the growing need for this service the capacities have been increased to receive 5000 calls in a day. Patients availing of this service are finding it extremely helpful especially in a situation where information on life-saving resources is not easily available given the health chaos the State has landed into. There is also a lot of misinformation floating around which is creating more confusion among patients in such difficult times.

Dr Chaki of West Bengal Doctors Forum further said “ Vibrant communication among those sick and the health administration will definitely reduce panic among people and medical professionals alike. Time is of paramount essence. Every second count, every life matters.”

Pial Banerjee of SwitchON Foundation said “It has been sleepless nights for many of us but it is only a fraction of the trouble patients are going through trying to find medical help. We have ramped up our capacity to handle 5 times of our current strength“ 

Citizens who are social media people are receiving crowdsourced information since the beginning of the perilous second wave. However, people living in the margins or in rural and peri-urban areas are finding it challenging without access to information or such resources. SwitchON and WBDF’s telemedicine service is seeing a massive number of calls coming from peri-urban and rural parts of Bengal and callers are finding it extremely helpful in such a situation of panic and disorder. 

Case stories

  • A family member of a patient about 70 years old called on our telemedicine number from Kharda. His was a critical case with his blood oxygen saturation dropping to almost 65 and temperature at 99. The patient was diagnosed with COVID-19 positive a week back. The condition of the patient being critical and not aware of what to do next, his family member was confused with regard to hospital admission. Our volunteers connected him immediately to a doctor from emergency medicine and trauma care. With the help of the doctors’ advice, the patient was immediately admitted to a hospital. We checked with the patients’ relatives in 2 days and found him to be in a stable condition. 
  • A family member of a 10-year-old child called on our telemedicine number from Kolkata. Although the case was not a critical case, the mother of the child sounded petrified as the child showed symptoms of dry cough and high fever. It is not possible to measure a child’s blood oxygen saturation through a pulse oximeter, hence we were not sure of that. Also, the child was not tested for COVID-19. Considering it an emergency case, our volunteer immediately connected her with a pediatrician. The pediatrician advised her to keep the child in home isolation and advised certain medicines and remedies appropriate for children below or of 10 years of age who have recently contracted COVID. We checked on the child’s health in 3 days, we found him to be recovering gradually and doing well. 

How does the helpline work?

The telemedicine number +91 8929408282 is available for calls from 7 am to 12 midnight.

o   Any caller will be automatically guided through a recorded instruction and will get connected to a volunteer.

o   The volunteer on getting connected with the patient will collect all necessary information such as the name of the patient, age, gender, contact number, etc. which will be shared with the doctors.

o   Information on health such as symptoms for COVID, if having COVID-19 positive report, blood oxygen saturation, etc. are then collected from the patient.

o   For mild and asymptomatic cases, the volunteer gives necessary advice on home care and isolation and guides the patient to get connected with a doctor in four available time slots.

o   For severe and emergency cases, the volunteer immediately connects the patient to a doctor.

The service doesn’t directly provide hospital beds, ambulance, or oxygen cylinders. However, for emergency patients seeking such services, it guides the callers to avail the already existing Government SOS services by providing government helpline numbers and other verified information through a WhatsApp number (+91 7595067983).

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