These Delhi students are bridging the healthcare chasm with Tele Upchaar

This social initiative from Delhi uses telemedicine in order to address the gaps in our healthcare system

author_img Anjani Chadha Published :  13th January 2022 02:09 PM   |   Published :   |  13th January 2022 02:09 PM
Founders (L-R) Vrinda, Sukriti, and Lavanya

Founders (L-R) Vrinda, Sukriti, and Lavanya at Ramakrishna Mission Sevashram

The need and importance of a sound healthcare system has been broadly recognised in the last two years. With the fault lines in health services that have come to light especially amid the pandemic, it has become paramount to develop alternatives to make basic healthcare accessible to all. In such a scenario, four students from Delhi embraced the potential of digital technology to start Tele-Upchaar, a non-profit initiative for the deployment of telemedicine. Using audio-video technology to provide remote healthcare services, the team helps bridge the gaps that exist in our healthcare system. 

Launched in April 2019 by Vrinda Bhola, Lavanya Rathi, Suhani Bansal, and Sukriti Gupta—then class 11 students at Modern School, Vasant Vihar—the venture aims to provide healthcare access to people from rural parts of the country, where they usually have to travel a lot for medical treatment or care. Tele-Upchaar has successfully completed more than 500 patient consultations in about two years, and now has a team of more than 40 volunteers.

Prompted by personal experiences
In early 2019, it came to the notice of the quartet that the relatives of their domestic workers, who lived in rural areas, had to travel long distances to avail primary healthcare services. “Our house helps returned from their hometowns and told us that they had to travel [far] to go to hospitals to receive basic facilities. That really bothered us,” says Rathi.

After identifying it as a common problem, these four friends—they were also classmates—came together to look for possible solutions. On researching the same, the idea to develop telemedicine seemed a feasible option to them. “Telemedicine is not a very common concept [in rural India]. We wanted to delve deeper into the same, and do something in this aspect,” adds Bhola, a resident of Rajendra Nagar.

Exploring further, they became aware of a telemedicine unit that was set up by the Ramakrishna Mission Sevashrama in Mathura. The four founders paid regular visits to Mathura in order to understand how telemedicine units function. “In Mathura, we volunteered with the unit and helped them with minute changes and operations to get an understanding of how they work. Once our research was over, we practically applied our observations in developing Tele-Upchaar,” mentions Rathi, who lives in Panchsheel Park, South Delhi.

Technology to the rescue
Tele-Upchaar seeks to build an easy-to-use interface to connect patients with doctors. The team primarily makes use of audio-video technology to organise medical consultations, webinars, and medical camps. Since the pandemic, Tele-Upchaar has also been actively organising awareness campaigns related to COVID-19.

Partnering with NGOs who work with old-age homes and those from economically-stressed backgrounds, they connect individuals in need of medical care with doctors who volunteer with Tele-Upchaar, thus making health consultations accessible.  Talking about the doctors who volunteer with them, Bhola mentions, “We started with our school friends, reaching out to those whose parents were doctors and soon started approaching doctors through social media as well as LinkedIn.” 

Even though their initial plan was to organise offline medical camps in Delhi-NCR, Tele-Upchaar soon embraced the virtual mode to reach out to more people from different parts of the country—they have organised camps with people from Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand as well. Furthermore, with the onset of the pandemic, their initiative picked up pace. “In the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic and the first few days of the lockdown, we reached out to old-age homes and told them that we cannot have regular visits of doctors these days because it is not safe and they were actually more welcoming of the idea [of telemedicine],” says Bhola.

Talking about the challenges they have faced, Bhola and Rathi explain that initially,  people were reluctant about virtual consultations but after a few meetings, they gradually grew comfortable. 
Currently functioning with a big group of passionate volunteers, Tele-Upchaar now plans to accelerate their operations by creating a mobile application in order to take their initiative to a pan-India level.