I Kid You Not caught up with the teen founders of healthcare start-up, Tele-Upchaar which connects doctors with those in need of healthcare.
The co founders are: Vrinda Bhola, Lavanya Rathi, Suhani Bansal, Sukriti Gupta
I KID YOU NOT: Could you please detail your initiative for us?
T-U: Tele-Upchaar is a non-profit initiative started by 4 high school students with the intention of bridging gaps and connecting those in need of healthcare facilities with doctors through audiovisual means of communication. We strive to provide accessible healthcare facilities and connect individuals from remote areas to medical professionals without forcing them to travel large distances to access the facilities they require.
In its initial phase, Tele-Upchaar started as a research endeavour. We observed telemedicine units in Mathura and Agra. Our initiative at Mathura, encompassed improving the working of telemedicine units and raising awareness about such virtual medical endeavours with a focus on non-communicable diseases. As volunteers, we engaged young girls in educational activities that helped them learn about cleanliness and menstrual hygiene.
In Agra, we utilised our learnings and experiences from Mathura to allow us to critically analyse and suggest changes to help evolve the working model of telemedicine. During Covid-19, Tele-Upchaar started to provide such telemedicine facilities to those in need, primarily focusing on neglected elders and old age homes. We also organised health camps, fundraisers, offline medical camps, community meetings, and awareness drives to educate people about the coronavirus and help in curbing the spread of misinformation. During the second wave of COVID-19, our team was hellbent on verifying leads and resources and providing them to the people in need, holding doctor consultations for covid19, and booking vaccination slots.
I KID YOU NOT: What inspired you to start this initiative? Is there any person or organisation whom you idolise?
T-U: When our house help reached out to us and told us that back home in the village, they had to traverse long distances and invest a lot of time to avail and access even the most basic healthcare facilities and consult a doctor, we were at first taken aback. We dug deeper into the problem and saw the state of medical care in rural parts of the country.
This is when we learned that in India, 86% of hospital visits are made by people belonging to rural areas, with the majority travelling more than 100 kms to avail of basic healthcare. We believed healthcare is a human right, and as individuals felt that it was imperative that we do our part in helping any and everyone to get access to medical care.
As we dove into finding solutions, we stumbled across telemedicine- an initiative and idea that could radically change the healthcare industry in the coming future and could perhaps be the solution to our problem by bridging gaps between doctors and patients. We decided to gain hands-on experience at Mathura and Agra before starting our own operations. We organised doctor consultations, camps, and drives to do our part. We idolise our mentors from Tata Trusts, Mr. Nagesh and Swami Ji who continuously inspire us.
I KID YOU NOT: What are some challenges you faced on your journey? How did you overcome them?
T-U: In the initial research phase of our initiative, we observed the workings of telemedicine units. However, the units were located in Mathura, and it was a long commute for us to go frequently. Needless to say, the lags between our visits did occasionally seem to undo the progress we had made until then. With a few moments of disappointment, we soon learned.
that what we lost in quantity, we could make up in quality instead. We began using the time after school on weekdays to research beforehand and go well prepared. We approached the head of Ramakrishna MissionSevashrama Hospital without any referrals or references to back us up. As students, too young to be accomplished, we began that meeting with immense apprehension. However, as he listened to us intently, he could see clearly how passionate we all were.
Then, as a global pandemic took over our lives, we decided to use our knowledge of telemedicine to help those affected by restrictive accessibility to hospitals. Our first challenge was a lack of contacts, so we started searching for old age homes and orphanages online and calling them to offer our assistance through social media. After a few check-ups, we knew we would need a larger platform to make our initiative visible to others so that they could reach out to us. We instantly thought of building an online presence. We also built a website so that a wider audience could see our work and contact us.
Another difficulty was finding doctors who would be on board with us. We started with our school friends, reaching out to those whose parents were doctors. After some weeks of talking and explaining, we had two doctors with us and hence we carried out our first consultation. There were technological barriers as well, with caretakers at old age homes not being familiar with relatively new virtual communication facilities but we remained patient and found solutions by shifting to easier mediums and helping them navigate these.
We also observed that some old age homes, after consultations with our doctors, did not have sufficient funds to provide the prescribed medicines to the patients. For their effective treatment, medication was very important so we decided to organise an online fundraiser that could help with these issues. We also tied up with organisations like ’Medicine Baba‘ and ‘Avi Trust’ which provide us with the medicines and bear the cost. During the second wave when we resort to putting verified leads of oxygen, beds, medicines, etc and we were bombarded with unverified links and multiple requests. We organised a team of volunteers and continued to persevere through and keep our morale high to achieve our goals.
Healthcare is a very fragile topic and trusting teens with it is a difficult task, but Tele-Upchaar continues to prove that we are passionate young people who are willing to overcome any and every difficulty to make the change we wish to see.
I KID YOU NOT: How do you balance non-profit work with school work?
T-U: We do believe that if you love something you find a way to do it. Tele-Upchaar is an initiative we deeply care about and thus are willing to manage our time efficiently to continue helping people out. We prioritise our time and maintain a balance by setting aside dedicated hours and maintaining boundaries between our professional and scholastic lives and catering to what needs our attention the most. We also have a team of volunteers who constantly help us and thus by sharing the load, we continue to function successfully and smoothly.
I KID YOU NOT: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
T-U: The two major hurdles we faced were access to medicines and the extensive workload. We do feel that by organising a planned and efficient way to acquire medicines and by engaging volunteers from the very beginning we could perhaps have eased our work. That being said, we are truly grateful and proud of ourselves and everyone who helped us and are thankful for the journey we took to get where we are today.
I KID YOU NOT :What future do you see for this initiative?
T-U: The main goals and targets we have for this initiative in the near future are creating an accessible app that widens our reach and allows us to efficiently carry out consultations and setting up a telemedicine unit. Mobile telemedicine units, that provide facilities at the doorsteps of patients in rural areas will help us ease access to healthcare even more. Having visited various units ourselves we understand their working and importance in-depth and believe by setting up these units in remote areas, we will be able to reach wider audiences and build a pan-India patient base. While our services have reached a few thousand already, we aim to expand enormously and increase our audience to make society a better place.
I KID YOU NOT: If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring change-makers, what would it be?
T-U: We want to tell our peers, our fellow innovators, and aspiring change-makers, that we understand their circumstances, their hard work, and their battles, and we speak from experience when we say, their work will speak volumes and will pay off. As we faced adversities and setbacks, we at Tele-Upchaar, knew we had to work hard and well. We would advise change-makers to not be daunted by adversities and setbacks and to build a community of volunteers, distribute work, stay organised and keep working hard. With persistence comes the reward in unimaginable ways and our lives expand when we work for society as a whole, and to help people, to know you are doing something worthwhile is an unmatched feeling, a feeling that keeps you going.
Another piece of advice that has played a prominent role in our journey is that don’t be afraid to start small. If you are passionate about your cause, your hardwork will show results and help improve lives eventually and steadily. In addition to this, don’t let your age limit you from going the extra mile and achieving what you have envisioned. Try to approach huge organisations, talk to eminent personalities of your field, take risks and try out new ideas. You might fail but it would come up with learnings you’ll cherish for life.
I KID YOU NOT: What have you learned in this journey as an individual/ team?
T-U: Our journey of Tele-Upchaar has been extremely enriching and has shaped us into the people we are today. Apart from learning a lot about telemedicine, its importance, and applications, we are now familiar with the concept of starting something from scratch and putting a team and its work together. More humble learning has been in terms of our lifestyle. Our visits to underdeveloped areas and interactions with people who lead fulfilling lives make us more aware of the privileges we are offered today. It also challenged our creativity and forced us to think of innovative ways in which telemedicine could be put to use for the betterment of society.
In our journey, we uncovered a whole new dimension of India, where culture and ethnicity were defined in ways we did not consider. We connected with traditions and beliefs that otherwise had been foreign to us.
In addition to this, Tele-Upchaar has proven to be a great opportunity for us to hone our communication and leadership skills. Interacting with accomplished personalities, from entrepreneurs, high-ranked doctors to social workers has evolved us in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Interacting with people from diverse backgrounds has ingrained a sense of empathy and compassion in us which wouldn’t have been possible unless we were personally involved and invested in ensuring a certain comfort level with the patients. This journey has instilled in us a deep sense of gratitude as we learn to acknowledge our privilege and recognise our ability to use it to help society. Coordinating with different organisations, patients, and doctors, maintaining records, and ensuring regular follow ups and other vital but little things have made us more organised and developed discipline as individuals.
With the onset of the second wave of coronavirus in India, our workload grew immensely and we learned how to work relentlessly for long hours at a stretch which strengthened our concentration skills and equipped us with mechanisms to deal with pressure during testing times.
We can say with certainty that Tele-Upchaar has equipped us with qualities like teamwork, diligence, cooperation that allow us to be holistic and better human beings. In the course of our journey, we have come across many instances needing precise and spontaneous decision-making. We learned about the reward that comes with persistence and the way our lives expand when we care and work for not only our benefit but for other people’s welfare.
For more information about Tele-Upchaar, visit thier website www.teleupchaar.com or check out thier Instagram handle https://instagram.com/teleupchaar?igshid=vs4amjkzbv7i