Monday, January 30, 2023

Making Healthcare Accessible: Dr. Anita Natarajan

BY MURIEL D’SOUZA, 27 Jan, 2020

    Dr. Natarajan believes all the hard work she put in to learn and promote this technology is for the greater good: making primary health care available outside of traditional clinic hours; a modern platform that will complement the existing provincial healthcare system

    Being a beautiful and peaceful country, Canada attracts many immigrants. Year over year this number grows, and with it grows the need for medical attention to the newer population. Finding a family doctor in British Columbia has been an ongoing battle, with an estimated 800,000 of the province’s residents without one; weekends, evenings and holidays being the worst time for a medical emergency.

    Knowing the plight of patients who have no one to turn to, Dr. Anita Natarajan recently joined Babylon by TELUS Health as a Head-Office Physician Lead. Babylon by TELUS Health provides virtual healthcare through a free smartphone app. The app empowers patients with an AI-powered Symptom Checker, which draws data from over 500 million streams of medical knowledge. It asks the user questions and responds by providing them a course of action. If the patient needs to see a doctor, they can book appointments for face-to-face virtual video calls with locally licensed physicians. What’s more, the consultation is covered by BC MSP.

    After practicing medicine in an office-based practice for almost two decades, Dr. Natarajan wanted to do more to make healthcare accessible. She knew the challenges faced by those who live in the interiors of the province. So she decided to take on more responsibilities. “My role is varied; other than providing video-based care to patients across BC, analyzing incoming test results, I also help our medical directors create policies and protocols for our team of physicians.”

    Turning to technology as her method of treatment wasn’t an easy decision. It involved a big change that Dr. Natarajan whole-heartedly embraced so she could help patients on a larger scale. “I am a very traditional person by nature. I previously used pen and paper to record all patient notes. I realized over time that the traditional model is very difficult to sustain. I was impressed by the mission, the technological expertise and the sincerity of the people who work for Babylon by TELUS Health. Through this service, British Columbians have another option for accessing quality care and communicating with healthcare professionals.”

    Dr. Natarajan believes all the hard work she put in to learn and promote this technology is for the greater good: making primary health care available outside of traditional clinic hours; a modern platform that will complement the existing provincial healthcare system. It particularly eases the stress on hospital emergency rooms, which for the most part deal with non-emergency health issues that occur at odd hours.

    She shares her experience, “Our team has had the privilege of helping hundreds of patients access much needed medical advice, lab tests, imaging, specialist consultations and rehabilitation services. We are connected through an internal messaging system where we continually share clinical questions, advice and updates in medicine. Each day, I learn so much from the collective experience of our physician group.”

    While she and her team vouch for the system, and believe it relieves some pressure on limited public health resources, they are still working towards addressing some shortcomings; the inability to examine a patient in person being top on the list. Dr. Natarajan takes extra measures to not let it affect her course of treatment in any way. “As a physician delivering virtual care, I arrive at a diagnosis through careful history-taking and examining each patient by video. While video consultations do have their limitations, I am able to accomplish much of the standard approach to examination via video by doing a thorough assessment of a patient’s overall appearance, level of activity, and mental state based on the conversation.” This is further supplemented by the ability to order lab tests, diagnostic imaging, and to review Pharmaceutical Information Network (PIN) medication histories. “If a physical examination is deemed necessary, I then refer patients to a physical clinic.”

    After seeing patients in an office setting for almost 20 years, Dr. Natarajan feels both ways of treatment are not very different. “I use the same skills over the digital platform as I would in an office setting. The challenges I face each day are the same as in general practice. When treating someone virtually we have to remember technology is a means to an end. The real goal is to listen to patients and keep all the possible diagnostic outcomes in mind, even the rare ones.” says the doctor who wants to share this new technology with her fellow doctors across BC.

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