In response to the enduring pandemic, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been running a pan-India telemedicine helpline to provide 24×7, free and confidential medical advice for patients experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. The aim of the helpline service is to support the marginalised and vulnerable communities to address COVID-19 and Omicron variant-related issues, a statement from MSF said.
It also said that the helpline had been set up in August 2021 in response to the overwhelming demand placed on the existing health infrastructures in India, and is targetted to support those patients who require medical attention, and are unable to access care. The MSF telemedicine toll-free number is 1800 309 4144.
MSF doctors and nurses are available on the toll-free helpline 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and will conduct consultations, be able to issue e-prescriptions, provide information about infection prevention measures and ensure that appropriate follow-up of all patients are made. The service also has provision to link callers to the toll-free number to provide psychological support in case of need, the statement further said.
It further notified that MSF telemedicine helpline has received over 1,400 calls from 20 states until 14th January, 2022, reflecting the multiple languages that the telemedicine team are able to deliver support in. The maximum number of calls received so far are from patients between the age group of 18 and 29 years old (98) followed by those between 30 and 44 years old (80). In terms of geographic location, the most number of calls came from Madhya Pradesh (61) followed by West Bengal (54) and Uttar Pradesh (43) respectively.
“Adequate healthcare services aren’t available in all parts of the country, which means many people are excluded, particularly during surges of the pandemic where the health inequities that are already present in India are manifold increased. We believe everyone should have access to medical care and the helpline will strive to provide equitable, affordable and accessible COVID-19-related consultation to those who need it the most. It is very difficult to predict what form the next wave of COVID-19 will take. However, we believe that it is critical to be as prepared as possible in order to mitigate the catastrophic scenes witnessed during the last wave,” said Ershad, Project Coordinator, MSF.
Steps to access telemedicine service
- Anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 can call the toll-free number 1800 309 4144 when an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system will guide them. Then, a nurse will make an initial assessment of the patient.
- Where appropriate, the nurse will refer the patient to a doctor as the next step.
- The doctor will assess, advise and will provide an electronic prescription where required.
- The nurse will schedule a follow-up with the patient to monitor the condition
As a part of the community engagement plan so far, MSF has engaged with over 1,300 stakeholders pan-India through state level, community and individual meetings to promote the telemedicine toll-free helpline, the statement concluded.