27 December 2016
D r. Sara Saeed, the co-founder of doctHERs, is a dedicated doctor who is determined to make a difference by increasing access to healthcare and women empowerment in the field of medicine. A graduate of Dow Medical College, Dr. Sara Saeed has also worked in a Micro Health Insurance Organization-’Naya Jeevan’ for more than 2 years before founding doctHERsTM - a digital platform which connects underprivileged communities in Pakistan to high-quality healthcare while reintegrating qualified female doctors into the workforce. She is based in Karachi and doing her Masters in Health Policy and Management from Aga Khan University, Karachi. This week meet this passionate doctor who has high plans for underprivileged women...
You! How did it all start?
Dr. Sara Saeed: We began the journey of doctHERs in 2014 when Dr. Asher Hasan conceived the initial concept and he and I (the founding team) prototyped the concept in a small urban community of Sultanabad through ‘Naya Jeevan’ - a funded community health project. After conducting a successful prototype, we then formally launched the company in 2015. Our third co-founder Dr. Iffat Zafar also joined the team during this time.
You! What is doctHERs all about?
Dr. Saeed: Being a socio-cultural initiative, doctHERs connects female doctors to millions of underserved patients in real-time while leveraging online technology. This enables doctHERs to circumvent socio-cultural barriers that restrict women to their homes. It also aids to access urban/rural patients through mobile and internet enabled technologies/video-conferencing. Home-based female doctors can remotely access patients via our cloud-based technology. This e-health system constitutes a high-definition (HD) video-conferencing, online patient forms, online pharmacy inventories, online medical reports and referral systems and application of peripheral diagnostic tools such as blood pressure sensors, e-oximeter, e-thermometer, e-ophthalmoscope and etc. Nurses, Community Health Workers (CHWs) and Community Midwives (CMWs) are trained to assist these home based doctors in the physical assessment of patients at point-of care using remote, diagnostic, cloud-based tools attached to a telemedicineTM system. Also, doctHERs are cross connected in clinics to provide video consultations and the network is kept engaged through continuous medical education programmes and community outreach events.
You! How many clinics are run by doctHERS?
Dr. Saeed: Currently, doctHERs has seven clinics across Pakistan and two other clinics dedicated to mental health. All these clinics are assigned online general physicians and specialists including gynaecologists, dermatologists, and diabetologists. Furthermore, all doctHERs clinics provide tertiary care referrals. Every clinic has a visiting ultrasound specialist along with weekly visits from phlebotomists which provide lab reports on all nine clinics. Presently, among the 40 doctors enrolled in the startup, 15 are rendering their services actively.
You! What are the challenges?
Dr. Saeed: We have a team of 80 % females and it has its fair share of challenges. It is difficult to reach out and interact with men in our target communities. They don’t like women talking to them, raising up their voices and explaining or answering their questions. Another hurdle is making patients understand the concept of telemedicine and accepting that their healthcare needs can also be a priority; showing that it is not a drama on a TV screen but rather a genuine, licensed, female physician has been made available for their well-being. Social risks are always a part of the overall dynamics; preaching to urban slum communities and bringing about a behaviour change, amongst people who have lived in the same manner for centuries, is no easy feat.
You! What is the role of Shell Tameer in your project?
Dr. Saeed: When doctHERs was in the ideation phase in 2014, we applied to Shell Tameer awards 2014. Shell Tameer provided us with our first seed funding, created noise for doctHERs and helped us create our first pitch and financial model. It gave us the confidence that doctHERs can be more than an idea/ prototype and can scale into a company.
You! When did you get Shell Tameer Award and in which capacity?
Dr. Saeed: We received the runners up award in Shell Tameer awards 2014 in the category of health.
You! Can you give our readers an example of how a woman has been helped by any of your programmes?
Dr. Saeed: Sajida - a resident of model colony which is the location of our first doctHERs telemedicine centre - was a widow with 5 children suffering from polio that made it difficult for her to walk to longer distances. She found it extremely difficult to travel alone to the hospital for treatment that was 20 minutes away from her house. Through its one-stop shop telemedicine clinic, doctHERs provided her with a chance to get treated within her community at a 5 minutes’ distance via a qualified female doctor through nurse assisted video consultation and other value added services including pharmacy, ultrasound and lab all under one roof. Her life and health is much better than before.
You! Tell us about some of your most defining projects?
Dr. Saeed: Starting from a prototype on 100 patients in 2014, in just about a year, doctHERsTM has 9 functional clinics under its brand. 25,000 direct and 150.000 indirect lives have been impacted. Creating a footprint in KPK and Sindh, doctHERsTM has managed to take most specialties on board, specifically tele-psychiatry and have launched a complete unit in General and Mental Hospital (Dadar, KPK) and in Hafizabad, Punjab. We have been recognized by many national and international organizations in Pakistan and throughout the world for our innovation, dedication and hard work.
You! What is the most important advice you can give to women?
Dr. Saeed: Find your voice and let the world know what you think. You are important enough to be heard!
You! Any lessons learned the hard way?
Dr. Saeed: Failures make you appreciate success!
You! What’s your mission in life?
Dr. Saeed: Every Pakistani should have the right to primary health care!
You! How do you unwind?
Dr. Saeed: Travelling to the beautiful mountains of Pakistan.
You! What’s your biggest accomplishment to-date?
Dr. Saeed: Reaching out to 25,000 patients and create a small but healthy impact on their lives.
You! Do you think general mind set of our society is changing?
Dr. Saeed: Yes and doctHERsTM is just one example to showcase the strength and power that common Pakistani individuals can hold. Through doctHERsTM we have challenged the very core of the society by allowing women an equal standing.
You! What are the challenges, in your eyes, are facing by Pakistani women today?
Dr. Saeed: Lack of education, domestic violence, gender discrimination etc. We live in a patriarchal society where majority of the decisions are taken by the heads of the family which are men. Women in general are not given equal opportunities. I have also grown up in the same culture but what differentiates me from the women of the older generation in my family is that I am equipped with education and exposure to take my own decisions in life and be accountable for them.
You! What do you think are the main ingredients or traits essential to attain success?
Dr. Saeed: A strong value system, honesty and commitment to your work.
You! What are the positive points of being economically independent?
Dr. Saeed: Being able to voice their opinion and describe their role in their lives as THEY see it.
You! Your philosophy of life:
Dr. Saeed: Be the change you want to see in others.
You! Do you think a professional can be a good wife and mother?
Dr. Saeed: It is all about balancing, time and situation. Sometimes you focus more on your family and sometimes your work becomes your priority.
You! What are your future plans?
Dr. Saeed: By 2020, doctHERsTM aims to scale its nurse assisted video consultation programme to over 500 clinics across Pakistan, directly impacting 1.2 million people.