Telehelp Ukraine is a telemedicine platform providing medical care to Ukrainians both in Ukraine and refugees in Poland. This platform was developed by Stanford Medical Students and is powered by physicians throughout the world, including many members of our Hippocratic Adventures Community. This week, Solomiia Savchuk, a third year Stanford medical student, shares how she and her team developed Telehelp Ukraine in just two months and how you can take part.
HA: Tell us your story!
Sol: Our team has a strong commitment to support Ukrainian people in the face of unjust and unprovoked violence and many have a personal connection to the region. I am a MS3/5 at Stanford and an executive director of TeleHelp Ukraine and I was born and raised in Ivano-Frankivsk region, Ukraine. Eva Morgun, an MD-PhD student at Northwestern and our Director of Operations, was born in Kharkiv. Among our other core leaders is Zoe von Gerlach, our Director of Technology, who is a computer science student at Stanford, who grew up in Germany and Spain. Our faculty mentors, Dr. Annalicia Pickering, is a pediatric hospitalist here at Stanford, and spent several weeks working with refugees in Poland and Western Ukraine in March of 2022.
HA: How did you and your co-founders come up with the idea for Telehelp Ukraine?
Sol: Since the first days of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, members of the Stanford Medicine community, as well as other institutions, have expressed a desire and a drive to support the people of Ukraine. We were also acutely aware of the mounting need for medical and humanitarian support in the region. Approximately 13 million people have been displaced from their homes, and over 400 healthcare facilities have been damaged or destroyed, which often led to discontinuation of medical support to families with small children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Furthermore, Ukrainian physicians were and continue to face unparalleled challenges with the influx of critically ill and severely injured victims of shootings, explosions, and military actions. As resources shifted, the needs of patients with chronic and subacute conditions has fallen through the cracks.
While physicians all over the world have expressed their preparedness to provide medical assistance to the Ukrainian people, they did not always have an efficient and safe way to do so, and telehealth can bridge providers with those in need. As a community, we had learned a lot about telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here at Stanford, for instance, the student-run free clinics had operated through telemedicine for over a year. Thus we identified a need, and had the resources and experience that could satisfy some of this need by bringing telehealth support to Ukrainians.
HA: What were the steps you needed to take to roll out this platform?
Sol: We first reached out to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Poland to obtain permission to operate in those two countries where most of our clinicians are not licensed to practice. We also sought legal counsel (currently provided pro bono by Hogan & Lovells), to learn how to best protect our physicians and other volunteers. It took us 1.5 months to obtain all legal prerequisites and to build the infrastructure to see our first patient. Since then, we’ve started establishing partnerships with hospitals on the ground, as well as professional and volunteer organizations. We have recently established a collaboration with the Academy of Family Medicine of Ukraine through which we will be supporting with subspecialty referrals.
HA: How have you been able to fund this venture?
Sol: Telehelp Ukraine is a non-profit organization, and people can donate to us. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how to donate.
HA: What services does Telehelp Ukraine provide?
Sol: We provide medical consultations as well as mental health support. Both primary providers and specialists are welcome; patients may present for a primary consultation or seeking a second opinion. Specialties already offered include women’s health, cardiology, neurology, and dermatology. At this time, we are in need of specialists in rheumatology, endocrinology, nephrology, oncology and psychiatry, as reported by the Academy of Family Medicine of Ukraine.
Currently, any patient physically located in Ukraine + Ukrainian refugees in Poland are eligible for our services.
Clinicians in any country are welcome and we will verify that they are licensed to practice medicine in their home country. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed social workers are encouraged to participate as mental health providers.
Unfortunately, we currently are not recruiting NPs/PAs as medical providers on the platform. The international nature of this endeavor makes their participation as independent providers somewhat difficult, as Ukraine does not have a similar system as the US with mid-level providers, and therefore it is not clear where NPs/PAs would fall under our permission to provide services there. That said, we have other supporting roles where we would welcome such individuals, especially those with proficiency in Ukrainian and/or Russian.
HA: Do physicians need to know Ukrainian or Russian to volunteer?
Sol: We have a team of volunteer interpreters who, when necessary, will provide live translations during video encounters on our platform. They are certified medical interpreters, medical students, PA students, nurses, or have other prior experiences in medical fields. They are pre-scheduled to be present during video visits when they are needed based on the patient and physician’s language preferences.
HA: Is malpractice insurance provided?
Sol: Under the guidance of our legal counsel, Hogan & Lovells, we have ensured that before accepting the telehealth services, the patients must first acknowledge several points including understanding the limitations of tele-consultation services and releasing the provider and the platform from liability for the outcomes of their care. Per our legal counsel, the liability risk at this time was assessed to be minimal. Thus, at this we are not providing malpractice insurance for our providers.
Given that many providers have noted interest in this point, we are in ongoing discussions regarding malpractice insurance. Please reach out to us at email@example.com if you are interested in participating, but would prefer to do so only if malpractice insurance is available. You can view the full disclosure of other important considerations for physicians here.
HA: For physicians that are licensed in the US, do they need a Ukrainian Medical License to see patients through this platform?
Sol: As of April 18th, 2022, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health officially sanctioned all foreign volunteer initiatives to provide medical care to the citizens of Ukraine through remote communication. You can view the ministry’s letter here and our English translation here. The most pertinent highlight is that foreign health professionals who meet the professional requirements and qualifications of the country where the mentioned health care professional works, is eligible to provide care through telemedicine
HA: Are physicians expected to prescribing medications or order labs?
Sol: You will not be expected to write prescriptions for medications or order labs for patients. That said, the majority of medications in Ukraine are available over the counter, and patients might be able to purchase them at the pharmacy at your recommendation. For medications that require prescriptions, our volunteers will work with patients to connect with their primary providers and obtain the necessary prescription from a local clinician. A list of medications available in Ukraine can be found here (the document also includes over-the-counter availability, and comments on frequent use).
In many regions of Ukraine, patients may be able to complete a lab study without an order from a provider. Thus, you may recommend a specific study you think appropriate to the patient and have the patient schedule a follow-up appointment. Our volunteers will also work with patients and, when possible, their primary providers to help coordinate their care.
HA: For physicians that are interested, how can they sign up to volunteer?
Sol: Currently, the specialties we need the most are rheumatology, endocrinology, nephrology, oncology and psychiatry. Providers must be board certified to volunteer with Telehelp Ukraine. Based on our conversations with the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, provider must be eligible to practice medicine in the country where normally practice. For US clinicians, that means they must hold at least 1 current active state medical license and be in good standing with that state medical board to participate.
To volunteer, please fill out the form on our website or here. As part of this form, you will need to complete
- Medical license verification: We are partnering with SheerID to verify medical licensing for all clinicians. Please use this link for verification. If you run into any difficulties using SheerID, we have an alternative method using this google form.
- Personal Identity verification: Please use this link to have your identity verified using a government-issued photo ID – this process should be very quick.
Once your medical license and ID are verified, we will send you an invitation to sign up for Cliniko, which is the appointment scheduling platform we are using.