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A qualitative assessment of barriers and facilitators of telemedicine volunteerism during the COVID-19 pandemic in India

HumanInsight A qualitative assessment of barriers and facilitators of telemedicine volunteerism during the COVID-19 pandemic in India

Hum Resour Health. 2024 Mar 22;22(1):21. doi: 10.1186/s12960-024-00897-x.


BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic further propelled the recent growth of telemedicine in low-resource countries, with new models of telemedicine emerging, including volunteer-based telemedicine networks. By leveraging existing infrastructure and resources to allocate health personnel more efficiently, these volunteer networks eased some of the pandemic burden placed on health systems. However, there is insufficient understanding of volunteer-based telemedicine models, especially on the human resources engagement on such networks. This study aims to understand the motivations and barriers to health practitioner engagement on a volunteer telemedicine network during COVID-19, and the mechanisms that can potentially sustain volunteer engagement to address healthcare demands beyond the pandemic.

METHODS: In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with health practitioners volunteering on an Indian, multi-state telemedicine network during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data were analyzed using thematic content analysis methods.

RESULTS: Most practitioners reported being motivated to volunteer by a sense of duty to serve during the pandemic. Practitioners suggested organizational-level measures to make the process more efficient and facilitate a more rewarding provider-patient interaction. These included screening calls, gathering patient information prior to consultations, and allowing for follow-up calls with patients to close the loop on consultations. Many practitioners stated that non-financial incentives are enough to maintain volunteer engagement. However, practitioners expressed mixed feelings about financial incentives. Some stated that financial incentives are needed to maintain long-term provider engagement, while others stated that financial incentives would devalue the volunteer experience. Most practitioners highlighted that telemedicine could increase access to healthcare, especially to the rural and underserved, even after the pandemic. Practitioners also expressed an interest in continuing to volunteer with the network if the need arose again.

CONCLUSION: Our study findings suggest that practitioners are highly intrinsically motivated to volunteer during large healthcare emergencies and beyond to address the healthcare needs of the underserved. Following the recommendations presented in the study, telemedicine networks can more successfully engage and maintain volunteer practitioners. Volunteer-based telemedicine networks have the potential to bridge shortages of health personnel in resource-constrained settings both in times of crises and beyond.

PMID:38520012 | DOI:10.1186/s12960-024-00897-x

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