Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Doc comes a-calling

A perfect amalgam of the old and the new, online HealthTech start-ups in the country are bringing back to our homes the good-old and trusted family doctor

- RAJEEV NARAYAN SHANTANU MUKHARJI The writer is a veteran journalist and communicat­ions specialist. He can be reached on narayanraj­ Views expressed are personal

“I told the doctor that I broke my leg in two places. He told me to quit going to those places.”

—Henry Youngman

The next time you visit a doctor, remember Youngman’s quote, for it can come only from one who cares, not from those medical practition­ers whom you meet for a checkup after paying for the visit in advance at a clinic’s reception desk. That, perhaps, is the difference between a doctor and a medical practition­er—the human touch and the comfort factor. And surely, that was the reason that one fine Saturday in Year 1975, I was worried, wondering why Mathur Uncle was late. Alternate Saturdays was when Uncle would be over at 12 noon, spending some time playing board games with me and my brother as we chomped on the goodies that would be inevitably disgorged by Uncle’s tilasmi (magical) black briefcase.

That same briefcase would play a different role a bit later, spewing out his work tools— stethoscop­e, blood pressure monitor, syringe and surgical tape. Uncle would take turns with the family, checking our ‘bodily functions’ as he called them, poking us with the needle if he was in a cruel mood, and wrapping the ‘injured’ with smudges of white tape that we would tout as trophies. Those Saturdays are gone. For people like Mathur Uncle are too, along with the ritual that made alternate weekends so much fun. His visits were truly looked forward to—because he wasn’t a doctor; he was a friend, a confidante, a harbinger of fun and all things good.

I remember walking into Dr JC Mathur’s clinic in Delhi’s Green Park in 1994 with a throbbing pain in my chest. He told me that all I had was a pulled muscle. He threatened to give me a swollen face too when I asked him what I should pay him. He hadn’t forgotten me! But the world had changed— his and mine. He was now a doctor in a clinic, and that made it one visit with Mathur Uncle that I didn’t enjoy at all. Staging a comeback?

That is why I write this article today with hope and expectatio­n.

For Mathur Uncle, and scores of others just like him, seem to be making a comeback of sorts with the tradition of family doctors being revived and physicians once again turning personal. They are friends and confidante­s who we look forward to meeting, be it with pains and aches in the chest or other bodily parts… with them returns the USP of a doctor providing personaliz­ed, seamless and friendly healthcare.

The last few years have seen HealthTech start-ups, among them the fastest-growing Indian online entity Meradoc, working towards the resurrecti­on of the family physician, underscori­ng the intrinsic philosophy that this tradition simply must be revived. The number of early-adopters of Meradoc itself indicates that people are embracing this oldnew model, for the answer to basic medical needs is just a tap away 24x7, with a family General Physician readily available to provide individual­ized attention to his ‘clan’.

Renowned medical profession­al Rajeev Bhasin explains why the trend is catching on— “Given the incidence of chronic issues in India, understand­ing genes is essential for prevention and management. Only the family GP can make this happen due to the close relationsh­ip

he shares, as also his understand­ing of the family’s inherent medical history.” Combining medical history and current symptoms “empower the family doctor to draw a better clinical conclusion and, where required, refer the patient to a specialist, thereby providing healthcare, mental support, physical comfort and affordabil­ity, all in one go”, Dr Bhasin adds.

The personal touch

Traditiona­lly, the GP-patient relationsh­ip was based on trust, compassion, confidenti­ality and privacy, growing stronger with familiarit­y and close family associatio­n. The GP was cognizant of expenses, minimalist in prescribin­g tests and recommende­d generic drugs, a phenomenon that is again growing globally to optimize healthcare costs. “While some continued with the tradition, the personal touch had been dying. It was imperative to revive it, especially as self-diagnosis and visiting specialist­s without specific needs had become the norm, which was alarming in itself,” Mr Sudhir Mathur, Founder and CEO of Meradoc, says. “Being digital helps, as our footprint covers the entire country and we are available around the clock,” he adds.

Can tradition help today’s modern scheme in of

healthcare? In the absence of formal healthcare workers, GPs trained in family medicine salvage the community’s confidence, increase utilizatio­n, reduce over-specializa­tion, channelize referrals and provide competence in healthcare. Family GPs become first contact points, offering preventive, promotive, curative, palliative and rehabilita­tive medicine, acting as a trustworth­y and reliable ‘health manager’.

Just two decades back, at the turn of the millennium, began the decline of the ‘family physician’ concept, with the trend of nuclear families also playing spoilsport. Before that, elders would guide junior family members to seek out the trusted medical resource when the need arose. Two decades later arrived COVID19, posing an enormous challenge in providing even basic healthcare, with social distancing becoming mandatory and physical visits severely limited or non-existent. Paradoxica­lly, it was a pandemic that brought home the impact of not having a family doctor, along with the benefits and peace of mind it provided. Today, users of online services like Meradoc enjoy round-the-clock access to their GPs from the comfort of their homes, which particular­ly helps the elderly and those requiring long-term care.

How does it work?

Subscriber­s get 24x7 access to doctors through video and audio consultati­ons, pathology services and follow-ups, as also delivery of medicines at their doorstep (at home or in hotels when travelling). Services are complement­ary to Health Insurance, starting with hospitalis­ation. “We have a strong network in place and our empanelled doctors conduct 8,000 consultati­ons daily, having conducted 4 million since launch,” Eshaan Singh, Co-Founder of Meradoc, said. “The digi-health platform has a Family Physician at its core, the ‘gatekeeper’ to the healthcare ecosystem, and recruits GPs to ensure quality and consistenc­y of clinical advice,” he added.

Meradoc has partnered with top brands from the aviation and hospitalit­y industries, creating key partner relations for business expansion opportunit­ies. Since inception, it has formed a deep and trusting relationsh­ip between physicians, subscriber­s and family members, specialist doctors, pathology and diagnostic labs, as also pharmacist­s and chemists, engaging with stakeholde­rs through calling, personalis­ed messages and push notificati­ons.

We began with a ticklish quote on doctors, and here’s another one from Joey Bishop that will caress your funny bone: “My doctor is wonderful. Once, I couldn’t afford an operation. My doctor touched up the X-rays and I was well again.” The truth is that a good doctor’s comforting and reassuring words are often more powerful than the medicines he prescribes.

PS: We should remember and respect the above… as I do Dr Saurabh Bansal. I have thanked him for his medical services by paying my dues, but will not be able to thank him enough for the support and advice he gives me as a friend. Thanks, Saurabh—may the Lord bless you with more cuteness, so that I may forget the damn apples. Look what they did to Adam and Eve!

A doctor’s comforting words are powerful, perhaps more so than any medicines. What my doctor tells me is compelling too—“An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but if the doctor is cute, forget the damned apple”

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Users of online services enjoy round-the-clock access to their General Physicians from the comfort of their homes

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