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I have always wanted to work in the developing world and trained as a GP specifically to give me the skill set to do this. In 2001 I worked in a rural hospital in Zambia followed by months travelling around southern Africa. I was hooked. But I was uneasy about the lack of impact my voluntary work had, or its sustainability.
I’ve since been searching for voluntary work that would educate and support local health workers yet could be done whilst remaining based in the UK. I read an article about the Virtual Doctors in the BMJ and volunteered.
The Virtual Doctors provides sophisticated, yet easy to use bespoke telemedicine (technology & medicine) software and smartphones with internet access. This enables health workers in rural Zambia to send electronic patient files to volunteer doctors in the UK for diagnosis and treatment advice, helping to save lives.
How does it work?
The Virtual Doctors aims to reduce morbidity and mortality, reduce unnecessary referrals to hospitals (often long distances away), and to educate and support the health workers.
I started answering cases in 2013 and couldn’t get over how simple it was to help a health worker, so far away, manage a patient. I’ve continued answering cases ever since wherever I am: home; on holiday in tents in Wales; or by the pool in Lanzarote. All I need is an internet connection.
Being incredibly enthusiastic I kept bombarding the Director with emails and ideas. Eventually he invited me to a meeting and I’m now the medical director. I work most days on it alongside my job as a GP partner. I still answer cases, but also attend meetings, fundraisers, recruit new volunteers, and liaise with the voluntary IT team about the software. We are still a small charity but have rapidly expanded this year from 6 to 19 clinics.
I’m passionate about the Virtual Doctors and its simple but effective concept. I’ve witnessed the impact from my advice when the patient returns to the clinic for follow up and has recovered. I also frequently receive thanks from the health workers for the support and education we give.
I’m always looking to recruit new volunteers. All specialities are welcome, particularly GP’s. Experience in developing countries is helpful but it is not essential. Please contact me at [email protected]