How to get the right meds
Vasumathi Sriganesh's QMed Knowledge Foundation aims to help Internet users and medical students separate the wheat from the chaff of medical information available online
Her cheerful disposition and thirst for knowledge belie her age. At 55, when most people think about retirement, Vasumathi Sriganesh is raring to go. She has just started on her latest initiative, through which she aims to help health consumers access correct medical information on the Internet through the aegis of her non-government organisation QMed Knowledge Foundation. Slated to launch next month, the yet-unnamed project, will look at developing journalists, IT and banking professionals as intermediaries between doctors and patients.
Vasumathi Sriganesh, founder of QMed Knowledge Foundation at her Andheri office. PIC/ Sayed Sameer Abedi
Sriganesh says, “There is a treasure trove of information available on the web. But how do you know what is right and what isn’t? I am focusing on journalists, IT and banking professionals as they have more access to the Internet than others. I aim to educate them through a series of lectures and training programmes and ensure that in the long run, patients or their families, and health professionals can work together to access credible information on how a certain drug or treatment works to make an informed decision. The idea is to create more trainers who can help consumers make informed decisions, a practice that’s not uncommon abroad.”
According to Sriganesh, any kind of search can be divided into three categories — background information, quick facts and research-based information. The idea is to help individuals to differentiate between these three.
Her initiative is an off-shoot of a larger initiative undertaken by her organisation QMed Knowledge Foundation. It empowers medical students to retrieve evidence-based information on the web. So far, it has benefited 3,000 health professionals.
The Andheri resident claims that this venture was like her “backdoor entry into medicine.” She says, “I wanted to study medicine. But I lost my father and grandfather when I was in school and got married at the age of 20 immediately after my graduation. I was a homemaker for 12 years but the urge to learn prompted me to take up a course in Library Science. Later, I joined a Science library in Indian Institute of Geomagnetism at Navi Mumbai, then moved to Hinduja Hospital and finally the Health Library at Fort, Mumbai.” During these stints, she indulged in some self-learning through medical journals and also took up an online course on how to access literature of evidence.
During the course of her jobs, Sriganesh observed that students and professionals were unable to adequately exploit new information resources. As she began helping doctors and other health professionals, she was inspired to reach out to a larger group and that was how she got the idea to set up QMed Knowledge Foundation.
However, she admits that it wasn’t an easy task. She set up QMed as a private company in 1999. She says, “At that time, the Internet was slowly emerging in India. I assumed that more people would be able to learn on their own. So we created a CD-based product educating people how to use the web but it didn’t get a favourable response.”
Gradually, she started interacting with international web-based group — the Cochrane Consumer Network (which helps health care users, their parents and medical practitioners learn about evidence-based healthcare) and began attending their conferences and workshops to get a better idea. She also started subscribing to the mailing list of the Medical Library Association of the US (a nonprofit, educational organisation). She decided to turn QMed into a trust in 2008.
Initially, the institutes she approached did not agree with the need for this kind of a programme. Gradually, she started conducting research methodology workshops and got more projects due to word-of-mouth publicity. Do people think this is a niche subject? Sriganesh begs to differ. “Medical students aren’t taught how to sift through journals and resources to access the specific information that they need on a query. Unless health professionals learn how to do that, they can’t pass on the correct information to consumers.”