Neha is the Co-founder and CEO of Intelehealth, a telemedicine technology non-profit that delivers health services where there is no doctor. She is an entrepreneur and medical information engineer. She earned an MS in Applied Health Sciences and is pursuing her PhD in Health Informatics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Neha is also an active contributor for Women@Forbes, writing about women in tech, product development, organizational strategy, social impact and nonprofits.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: We are constantly looking for innovations to reach a wider audience of people using technology, especially in India since there are geographical barriers. We have a very interesting person with us today, who is heading intelehealth. So tell us a bit about yourself?
Ms. Neha Verma: I am a serial entrepreneur and I absolutely love technology. I met my co-founder when I was doing my masters, and we wanted to make healthcare accessible since 70% of our country lives in rural india. Health is a basic human right and we as a society should create systems where humans are able to access basic human rights. Telecommunications is making a huge entry in rural India and we saw an opportunity to deliver healthcare using phones.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: We have a wider network of people using the internet now, but don’t you think telemedicine is still an idea much in advance and rural India doesn’t understand it?
Ms. Neha Verma: It is definitely not the norm and we are in our early stages, but it is being accepted slowly. Telemedicine is just entering in and rural India is moving to digital means for many things such as banking. As the digital revolution happens in India in so many industries, healthcare is an obvious choice. Over a video call or a phone call, a lot of people can become empowered. We are breaking the norm that a doctor has to physically be present. The pandemic has also made telemedicine more accepted.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: How would you describe your experience in reaching out to these people?
Ms. Neha Verma: Telemedicine has several forms. A provider to provider model is what we largely work in. We help asha workers and community health officers where they have an app on their phone where they facilitate a consultation with a remote doctor. For serious cases, they can refer to a patient online. Financial and geographical barriers are broken with a simple telemedicine phone call. Another kind of telemedicine is helplines. That takes a lot of trust, and creating that trust is an extremely important aspect. Once people get a good experience, patients realise they are getting a more dignified and convenient solution through telemedicine. This builds trust in our patients. For women, it is a safe option. It takes a good 6 months for telemedicine to accept telemedicine.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee:- How does it take its path ahead? Do we have the infrastructural support?
Ms. Neha Verma: India is actually at the forefront of this. We actually have one of the largest telemedicines systems in place. Esanjeevani is a great initiative that the government has started. The world is taking the cue from india. Less than 20% of the countries in the world don’t have formal helplines. India adopted telemedicine in march 2020 in the pandemic. We still have a lot to learn from developed countries like the US, in what telemedicine can and cannot do. Diabetes and hypertension can be treated with telemedicine. There are definitely things that need physical examination, something which India still needs more structural support in.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee:- How is the market in telemedicine? What is the competition level?
Ms. Neha Verma: There are many organizations working in technology to make healthcare accessible for people like you and me. We largely work for people who are from tribal areas, rura India, conflict ridden zones which are mostly overlooked. Our services are available worldwide. I think that’s how we can reach maximum social impact. The market is pretty interesting.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee:- Healthcare needs a lot of attention, especially after the 2nd wave of covid. What would you say about the kind of support we really need in healthcare?
Ms. Neha Verma: I think pandemics exacerbate problems which already exist. The pandemic really brought out that we don’t invest enough on healthcare. We need more investment in underline infrastructure. So many of our healthcare centres don’t have technology, are understaffed, and have no equipment. This is a larger problem. We recently started working in post covid care, with governments of jharkhand and madhya pradesh, where we provide telemedicine consultations after people have recovered from covid in case they have any other complications.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee:- Women’s health and access to healthcare for women, is it really happening the way it should be?
Ms. Neha Verma: We need more women decision makers and policy makers. We tend to neglect women’s healthcare for many reasons. Whether it’s social conditioning or the fact that women are burdened in so many responsibilities. We need more investment in women’s healthwhether it’s during pregnancy, menstruation, reproductive health issues, breast and cervical cancers. There is so much work that has to be done. Telemedicine is just one component of it. Our focus is to make a comprehensive healthcare system.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: What about mental health and telemedicine?
Ms. Neha Verma: People are always anxious due to covid. I don’t think there’s anyone left in India who has not lost a loved one to covid. Telemedicine is a great way in bridging the gap in mental health services. It’s a private mode of communication where the client does not need to worry about the stigma attached to mental health. Aside from covid, when we work with tribal communities we see a lot of mental health issues since there’s a lot of use of substance abuse and locally brewed alcohol.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee:- What are your future plans?
Ms. Neha Verma: We want to be recognised as a global organisation. A staggering number of people don’t have access to healthcare. We recently tied up with UNICEF as well. We’ve worked in syria, philippines. That’s our big mission, to provide global goods that anyone can use to strengthen infrastructure. We recently did a training about vaccine hesitancy as well in rural india. There have been villages where the Panchayat leader has declared that no one’s allowed to take the vaccine. So health education is very important. We are working with NGOs like CRY and Pratham.
Q) Ms. Rakhee Bakshee:- So telemedicine as a career, what would your message be?
Ms. Neha Verma: We need more women contributing to solutions! Both technology as well as policy, are both male dominated spaces. If there’s one message I want to share, it is that when women start companies and work in technology, we are able to solve problems. Telemedicine is a sector that’s growing and has a lot of job opportunities. We see a lot more medical professionals providing healthcare through technology. We personally are looking for talented people. With every line of code I write, I am helping save a life. It is an extremely fulfilling field.
Ms. Neha Verma: Thank you for calling me here and amplifying voices. I love the work that you
Ms. Rakhee Bakshee: Thank you so much for joining us. We are truly lucky to have you. So
many young people are inspired by you .You are leading by example. We need to capture that
skill and inherent quality of capability. We in Her- World India are spreading information and
awareness. We see a lot of rumours and misinformation which we need to do away with. We
need experts coming and talking about important issues and I’m glad we have people like you. I
congratulate you once again.