doctHERs Case Study

A company connecting qualified female doctors via a digital platform to patients unable to access affordable healthcare in Pakistan.

DoctHERs is a digital platform connecting qualified female doctors to patients unable to access affordable healthcare in Pakistan. The model addresses two critical issues in Pakistan—the gender barriers affecting trained female doctors unable to secure employment, and communities at the base of the wealth pyramid unable to access quality health care.

When Sofia graduated from medical school top of her class, she dreamed of becoming Pakistan’s premier gynaecologist. But when she married two years later, that ambition was abruptly snuffed out. Arguing that Sofia would bring shame on the family by working outside the home, her husband and mother-in-law forced the young doctor to abandon medicine.1

Such stories are depressingly common – just 13% of qualified women doctors in Pakistan actively practise medicine, according to data from the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC).2 They are also the inspiration behind doctHERs, a social enterprise using online technology to connect female physicians with marginalised patients.3 The team knows its subject: co-founder Sara Khurram had her own residency terminated when she became pregnant.4

Exclusion of women from the workforce is particularly problematic given the stretched state of Pakistani healthcare. Ninety percent of the 120 million people living near or below the poverty line cannot access quality healthcare, with severe consequences.5 One World Bank Study found that health shocks push a further 4% of the population into poverty each year.6 Minimal public health spending (less than 1% of GDP in 20147) combined with a weakly regulated private sector has led to patchy quality and high prices, and the poor are disproportionately affected.8

In the face of these dual challenges, doctHERs9 has come up with a formula to boost access to quality healthcare and get more women into work. Its virtual clinic model allows female doctors working at home to connect to patients via video-conferencing, with the help of midwives, nurses and community health workers on the ground.10 The organisation uses a suite of cloud-based tools, from online patient forms to e-pharmacy inventories to ensure quality and standardisation.11 And it employs locals to help explain the service to patients and win community trust.12

The organisation, which aims to reach 8 million people by 2020,13 is on track to be profitable in early 2017.14 At a cost of between US$1 and US$5, its virtual consultations are proving affordable for low-income patients. Its model could save Pakistan’s wider healthcare sector big sums too. doctHERs says its clinics cost up to 50% less to run than traditional primary care units15 and calculates that adopting this leaner model across the 6,500 clinics currently providing primary, mother and child healthcare to underserved communities could save US$78 million per year.16

References

1 See https://www.changemakers.com/globalgoals2015/entries/docthers.

2 My Voice Heard. (2016) “Dr. Sara Khurram – Ensuring Health for the ‘Hers’”. 28 July. http://myvoiceunheard.com/dr-sara-khurram/

3 Syed, R. (2016) “DoctHERs in Pakistan empowering female doctors”. Aljazeera, 7 April. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/03/docthers-pakistan-empowering-female-doctors-160328143049724.html

4 Ashraf, S. “doctHERs: Health, Wellness & Sustainable Living for Women in Emerging Markets”. Changemakers. https://www.changemakers.com/globalgoals2015/entries/docthers.

5 Ibid. 

6 Hafeez, M. (2014) “Poverty and Poor Health in Pakistan: Exploring the Effects of Privatizing Healthcare”. Harvard International Review, 15 June, Vol. 35 Issue 4 Spring 2014. http://hir.harvard.edu/poverty-and-poor-health-in-pakistan/.   

7 World Health Organization. (2016) “Health expenditure, public (% of GDP)”. Global Health Expenditure database. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.PUBL.ZS 

8 Syed, R. (2016) “DoctHERs in Pakistan empowering female doctors”. Aljazeera, 7 April. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/03/docthers-pakistan-empowering-female-doctors-160328143049724.html. 

9 doctHERs. http://www.docthers.com/

10 My Voice Heard. (2016) “Dr. Sara Khurram – Ensuring Health for the ‘Hers’”. 28 July. http://myvoiceunheard.com/dr-sara-khurram/

11 Ibid.

12 Saleem, F. (2016) “doctHERs: Remote patient care with female doctors at the fore”. Dawn News, 12 May. http://www.dawn.com/news/1234694

13 From company interview.

14 Ibid.

15 From company interview.

16 Ibid.