In a metropolitan city, where super-speciality hospitals brazenly advertise their world-class (and expensive) medical facilities, the residents often find themselves in a fix while choosing the best one for even the simplest treatment. At the same time, not too far from the cityscape, a small village may be struggling to find even a single doctor or clinic.
The drastic difference between the two pictures clearly hints at a drastic disparity in healthcare in India, a country where around 70% of rural settlements fail to assure quality healthcare to more than half of her citizens. Inevitably, India, the second most populous country in the world, stands at a deplorable 145th rank in the Global Healthcare Index 2018. To change the scenario, Intelehealth, a tech-based non-profit, has come up with a unique primary healthcare model. Based in Odisha, Intelehealth has positively influenced over 50,000 tribal people who had negligible access to healthcare even a year ago.
The story behind Intelehealth
Founder Neha Goel is a health entrepreneur, who launched her first health service venture at the age of 19. Growing up with doctor parents, Neha was well-aware of the problems existing in healthcare in India. She interacted with Dr Acharya from Johns Hopkins University, who seconded her idea for a solution. Together, they started planning the Intelehealth model since 2016, which was deployed on-ground in rural Odisha from January 2018.
The app is super easy to use
Talking to Efforts For Good, Neha explained the intricate model of Intelehealth whose efficacy is ought to leave one in awe. The open-source care delivery model is controlled through a very basic app. “We have a team of health workers in the villages who form the backbone for our model. 10th or 12th-pass village women with a basic understanding of health and medicine are trained by our experts following which they are delegated to help out the community,” informs Neha.
The app has been developed in such a way that these women can easily handle it without any assistance. There are more icons and illustrations than wordy instructions, which guide the health workers evenly, one step at a time. In addition, the app is available in the local language.
How the Intelehealth model works
Presently working in Khamar area of Angul district in Odisha, the Intelehealth core team has selected 30 health volunteers from among the villagers who go from door to door inquiring about the need for any medical intervention. This simple approach has been immensely effective in gaining people’s trust.
When there is a patient, the health worker associated with that particular village reaches with her ‘backpack clinic’ in no time. Operating from makeshift health clinics, be it under a tree or inside the patient’s house, the health workers connect the patient to the doctor through Intelehealth’s telemedicine portal.
Be it three days’ fever, stomach ache or a throat infection, all symptoms are conveyed to the doctor, who generally responds within a few hours. Based on his prescription, the patient is directed to a nearby pharmacy where they can get the medicines. “We have one health worker for one village or a cluster of small villages. One doctor is assigned to a group of villages,” shares Neha.
72% of their beneficiaries are women
Catering to a population of around 50,000, Intelehealth finds 72% of their beneficiaries among the women. Neha shares, “These tribal women were the worst affected. Firstly, due to the patriarchal mindset of the families, they are rarely allowed to seek medical treatment for their personal problems, mainly gynaecological. They always need to be escorted by a senior male family member to even visit the village clinic.”
Intelehealth has eased things a hundred times for these women. They can now openly approach the women health workers with their gynaecological issues and get a doctor’s consultation in no time. Even in the domain of maternity and paediatric care, they are now getting expert advice which is difficult to find in a rural zone.
The elderly community comprises another major chunk of the beneficiaries of Intelehealth. They come mostly with problems like Arthritis, weakness and other age-related complications. Even a bit of simple advice on physiotherapy and basic medicines do wonders for these people, who otherwise give in to suffering or faith-healing.
Helping the villagers avail existing govt benefits
The Intelehealth model is super affordable for these low-income tribal communities, costing only 70 paisa per person in a day.
“We mainly focus on primary healthcare,” clarifies Neha, adding, “But in case of an emergency, the doctor is consulted immediately. As per his advice, the health worker connects the patient with the nearest ambulance service and health centre.”
Intelehealth aims to help the patients learnt about and avail the existing health benefit schemes in the state. “Odisha government has a scheme ‘Niramay’ which provides at least 250 basic medicines for free to the underprivileged people. We try to direct the patients towards this and many other such schemes,” tells Neha.
Neha shares the story of an elderly patient who was diagnosed with a kidney ailment at the local hospital, where he was given an estimate of Rs 3 lakhs for the surgery. He had planned to mortgage his property; his kids had to be pulled out of school. The Intelehealth doctor informed him about the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ scheme, where all his medical expense for the surgery would be covered.
Worldwide success of Intelehealth
The momentous success of the Intelehealth model can be assessed from the fact that the Health Ministry of Philippines has created a similar model in their country. Since their healthcare problems are quite similar to rural India’s, the model suited just perfectly, benefitting a whole nation.
In war-torn Aleppo, Syria, Intelehealth model has been adopted and replicated with success.
Efforts For Good applauds this unique programme by a dynamic woman social entrepreneur and hopes more people across the world find the benefits of this one-of-a-kind community healthcare model.