Thursday September 21, 2023

London doctor designs telemedicine corona helpline for Pakistan

April 10, 2020

LONDON: A British Pakistani orthopaedic surgeon has designed a free of charge telemedicine corona helpline in Pakistan to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

Dr Suhail Chughtai told The News in an interview that he designed “telemedicine-based corona helpline” to give opportunity to people to take free medical advice on corona-like symptoms to minimise the need to go out where they can either catch a virus or spread it. Dr Chughtai presented the idea at a press conference at the inauguration of “Pakistan Society of Internal Medicine” Annual Conference in Lahore last month which was widely welcomed and endorsed by Prof Dr Javed Akram, Vice-Chancellor University of Health Sciences, Lahore.

Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar inaugurated the helpline and since then he has been instrumental in leading the widening of the service deployment around the province in various universities. On Wednesday, Dr Chughtai gave a presentation on corona helpline to President Arif Alvi via video link.

People can visit on their phone or laptops and then click on the Online-Doctor shown as a blinking icon. After typing name and city, they are connected to the doctor over live video link with average time ranging from 5-15 seconds.

The service is no burden to the patients as advice is offered free of charge. According to the website, for any shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing noticed by the doctor, guidelines are followed to arrange an ambulance by calling 1122 on behalf of the patient after knowing their address.

Dr Chughtai said that the virus spread can be minimised by social distancing as there is so far no effective treatment available. “As the COVID-19 containment phase now progresses to spread of the epidemic, I thought telemedicine to be the bridge between people and doctors while home-isolation is practiced. I presented the idea at a press conference at the inauguration of Pakistan Society of Internal Medicine Annual Conference in Lahore last month which was widely welcomed and endorsed by Prof Dr Akram with great support from the Punjab governor who led the initiative on front foot.”

Dr Chughtai said: “At present, we have a growing list of medical universities of Punjab joining the telemedicine corona helpline with 170 doctors trained and included in the 24/7 schedule in shift pattern which can be four to eight hours long. Over 1,000 young doctors have registered expression of interest and at present. I am training ‘master trainers’ who would engage with the most suitable applicants for extending our team. The most prominent medical universities include the University of Health Sciences (the nerve and command centre of the project), King Edward Medical University, Nishtar Medical University, PIMS Islamabad, Rawalpindi Medical University and more. We have now been asked to extend the service to other provinces too for which governor and CM of Punjab are working with the federal authorities and prime minister’s team to help with the logistics.”

Dr Chughtai said that doctors from APPNA and APPSUK -- two largest organisations of Pakistani doctors in USA and UK -- shall be participating through their young doctors to offer free advice on corona suspected symptoms.

He said that in a short time the corona helpline has produced good results as those who called have been given medical advice at home via a video-teleconsultation. He said: “The combined number of teleconsultations and telephone calls on the helpline has crossed over 40,000 since 19th March, when the governor Punjab inaugurated the service. More than twice this number could have visited hospitals or clinics as it’s a norm to have one or two people accompanying the patient to visit a doctor which meant the risk of exposure was reduced significantly wherever this telemedicine helpline was used.” Pakistanis living abroad have taken advice on corona-like symptoms, the helpline has received calls from India as well and BBC has featured the website as a novel way of providing help to people at home which is applicable to the current lockdown situation of the coronavirus epidemic.

Dr Chughtai became Microsoft Certified Specialist in 2001 while practicing orthopaedics. He is Director of Telemedicine and Digital Health at APPS UK (Association of Pakistani Physicians and Surgeons UK). He has researched and designed HTML outlines of more than a dozen telemedicine solutions which are converted into software websites, now being practiced internationally.

He added: “I believe that telemedicine is going to be the medicine, given where our direction of digital evolution is.”