What is the Virtual Doctors?
The Virtual Doctors is a UK registered telemedicine charity and Zambian NGO. We use smartphone technology to connect isolated health professionals with volunteer doctors (in the UK and elsewhere in Africa) who offer diagnostic advice for complex cases, to educate, empower and help save lives. We are the only charity doing this rurally focussed work in the region, enabling more patients to be treated locally and thus avoiding the need for referrals to distant hospitals, which may involve long and arduous journeys. We are not an emergency service.
To help improve the local primary healthcare in some of the most remote and impoverished areas of sub-Saharan Africa. We believe that once tested further in other countries, this model could make a substantial impact on rural health strategies across Africa and beyond and improve healthcare in those areas. It is highly scalable and once established, something that is transferrable to authorities in-country in line with their own strategies.
Our simple software, designed specifically for rural Africa and identified needs, connects remote health care workers, called Clinical Officers (COs), to volunteer doctors in cities. The service provides COs with an internet-enabled smartphone loaded with our bespoke telemedicine software. We provide set up, training, ongoing support, in-app educational material and mentorship.
We currently serve healthcare workers in 60+ health facilities in Zambia covering 1.6 million people with no direct access to a doctor. Results show:
· 93% Improved patient’s symptoms
· 77% Prevented a referral to hospital
· 98% The answer was educational
These statistics were gathered as of December 2017.
In Zambia, we are in the process of embedding the Virtual Doctors service into the Zambian Health Care system. Then we will scale back our support, leaving the local authorities to take over the service. This strategy will initially involve expansion to 100 clinics and involve transferring medical records to a Zambian secure data bank and incorporating the service within Ministry training.
In Malawi, we have started the process to implement a trial of our service in the nine districts of Central Province at the Invitation of the Ministry of Health in 2018.
In Zambia and Malawi we have the appropriate operating Memorandum of Understanding/s and these have been agreed with their respective Ministries of Health. The Virtual Doctors governance is overseen by an active Board of Trustees in the UK. In Zambia we have in-country setting as a charitable company with local Directors/Office Bearers and two local full-time staff members.
100% of our funding currently comes via the generosity of he general public. Lack of funding can prove a barrier to working so we are continually seeking new support. We currently have a very small team, comprising one full time Executive and a part time assistant in the UK and most of our core operation is supported by volunteers.