Luke Kane: Virtual Doctors Volunteering

Dr Luke Kane (Diploma of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 2014) works as a General Practitioner for the National Health Service and volunteers with Virtual Doctors. In this blog piece he discusses how COVID-19 has affected his work, how he volunteers with Virtual Doctors and how you can get involved.

After completing your diploma at LSHTM, what did you go on to do?

Shortly after my diploma, I worked in one of the Ebola Treatment Centres in Sierra Leone. My diploma knowledge was key to getting through the clinical and logistical challenges during that time. It gave me confidence to stand as an equal with an international partnership of clinicians and logisticians. Coming back to the UK, I saw how important long term, ongoing education was for fragile health systems. That is why I enjoy working with the Virtual Doctors so much now. It isn’t about sending out a group of UK medics to treat patients in a resource poor setting, but is about long term education and empowering local health officers.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work?

Working life in the NHS has had drastic changes recently. I have been pleasantly surprised at the speed at which systems and processes have changed – for example, the widespread adoption of telephone consults, eConsults and more innovative ways of working. Obviously, as a GP we have had large numbers of patients and families affected by the crisis. Not to mention the delays in cancer referrals, safeguarding challenges and mental health problems that have deteriorated during the lockdown. I have recently started working in a rota at the Camden COVID-19 Response Unit which has definitely brought back some memories from Sierra Leone!

Please describe your current volunteering role with Virtual Doctors and the opportunities that are available.

Virtual Doctors was designed to help health workers based in rural Zambia to communicate details of complicated patient cases to doctors in the UK for diagnosis and treatment advice. The idea is to help health workers treat more patients in their own communities and mitigate unnecessary referrals to distant and hard to reach hospitals. 

The charity provides smartphones and data connectivity to health officers across Zambia. They can then access a custom built telemedicine app to ask GPs and specialists in the UK for clinical advice. There are currently over 114 UK clinicians volunteering their time and expertise.

Virtual Doctors currently works on serving 140 health facilities across Zambia and 5 in Malawi (a population catchment of 2.5 million people). We would like to extend beyond Zambia, but we are only limited by the tiny budget we work with and are highly reliant on busy volunteers for service delivery and governance.

A key component of Virtual Doctors is clinical education. Podcasts, resources and guidelines are pushed onto the smartphones so that clinical officers in the field can keep their knowledge up to date. 

The Virtual Doctors are looking for volunteer medics with a UK registration and experience working in resource limited settings. Please email medicalteam@virtualdoctors.org if you’d like to help! Please send me an email if you want to get in touch or ask any further questions luke.kane@virtualdoctors.org.

What advice do you have for current students?

Network and grab every opportunity that comes your way. Never be afraid or timid in emailing people to ask for opportunities. For every nine that ignore you – one will reply!

If you are an alumnus and would like to share your COVID-19 story, please click here to find out more.

Information about how you can support, promote and share LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

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