You, Too, Can Be A Doctor
There are two programs in India where it's not doctors who are encouraging people to make better health care choices. In the Maharashtra state of India, Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH), and the Comprehensive Rural Health Project, enlist the services of local women to reach out to other women in their communities to share proper health information and techniques. The founders of both organizations realized the shortcomings of enlisting doctors in these poor, rural areas. They realized that the general health of the population could be improved not necessarily with the latest technology, but simply with proper health information. The Comprehensive Rural Health Project, which started in the seventies trains local women. These women visit villagers checking on babies, taking blood pressure and giving advice. Both these programs shift the power of doctors to lay people. Consequently, these women have helped improved infant mortality rates in the area. The women dispel rumors and educate their peers on proper health measures.
The concept is similar to techniques applied in marketing which uses opinion leaders as influencers, as well as word-of-mouth marketing. Except in this case it is health care. Instead of using Snoop Dogg to sell Pepsi, women are respected in their communities are teaching other women the proper techniques to take care of an infant's diarrhea, when to breast feed and other minor health techniques that add up to a big difference.
To think of it in terms of Western medicine - at your last dentist appointment, you might have spent 90% of your time with the hygienist, and 10% with the actual dentist. Or, you've had a cold or strep throat diagnosed and treated by a nurse practitioner. A growing trend in using those who are not doctors in a role traditionally reserved for physicians is midwifery - where women without a medical degree help other women have babies (midwives do receive training).
That's not to imply that doctors aren't necessary, but it allows physicians to focus their time and energy on specialized procedures that require more education and technical experience. Even here in the U.S., one of the most medically advanced countries in the world, we can stand to take a page from this book. There exists a variety of health disparities among ethnicities, as well as income classes, where enlisting community leaders can influence the behavior of the community as a whole. In some communities where suspicion of the healthcare community exists - including some African-American and Native American communities - seeing people they trust dispensing reliable health care could improve health conditions.
Photo by Jasleen Kaur