From the President: May 2020

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As one conference or meeting after another is cancelled or postponed in each of our regions and for many of our Member Organisations, we are looking for – and finding - new and innovative ways of keeping in touch, keeping informed, providing each other with care and support. We have always understood the importance of conferences and meetings to facilitate the sharing of information, of good practice, of ideas and possibilities in an open and friendly environment. Our members from across the globe use these opportunities to renew friendships, to build new interest groups and to increase their knowledge about particular issues and topics. Conferences and Member Organisation meetings are an important facet of our WONCA lives.

Many WONCA members are part of various chat groups, both within their own nations, regionally, and globally. These connections are more appreciated than ever, with such disruption going on in our lives. Over the last few weeks WONCA has been holding a series of webinars on topics of relevance to family doctors globally. So far, we’ve had webinars sharing news from each of the regions, with regional Presidents relating their experiences and challenges; on mental health of patients and GPs, issues which concern family doctors on a daily basis and are inevitably exacerbated during a global emergency. Webinars have also been held on education during a time of uncertainty and distancing – undergraduate education, postgraduate education and Continuing Professional Development; on research to inform our future responses and readiness; and on family violence, which is projected to increase manifold during periods of enforced isolation. Others are planned. We know many of our members participated. I hope you are finding them useful, and stimulating.

What has been really gratifying to witness during this time of adopting and using new and innovative ways of communicating, is the degree of collegiality across our Member Organisations from different countries and regions; the readiness which people exhibit to share their experiences whether those experiences are positive or negative; and the safety offered and accepted within the WONCA family space for people to open up about challenges to the way they practice, to adopting new and untested systems for diagnosing and testing patients, for dealing with all the ‘normal’ illnesses and diseases of patients, when life is anything but normal.

For our first webinar we had taken out a zoom contract to allow up to 100 people to participate: there was a full house. More than 1,300 people watched live on Facebook (with more than 60 shares of the live coverage); many others watched later on the WONCA YouTube channel. For the second webinar we had to increase our zoom capacity to 500, with the potential to further extend should we need to. The second webinar had thousands watching on Facebook. Clearly, we are meeting a need for our members and, along with all our other channels of communication, we are trying to ensure that our members stay as informed as possible, with respected experts talking on each of the issues.
Now, as never before, the work of our Working Parties and Special Interest Groups is proving its worth. The work that continues in the background, in addition to their normal working lives, undertaken by keen, enthusiastic members, has a ready audience, hungry for information and advice. It is no surprise that WHO colleagues have expressed their gratitude to WONCA for addressing these issues openly and informatively.

View previous webinars

As our methods of communicating with members adapts to changing and challenging circumstances, we will endeavour to keep our members across the globe informed and offer them a range of platforms to share with colleagues. WONCA is here for you, in good times and in bad times.

A key feature of the social distancing rules in place in many countries is that GP consultations are having to be done by telephone, skype or other virtual means. GPs are as susceptible to COVID 19 as any of our key health workers. Sadly, a growing number of our colleagues are succumbing to the virus and, while many have made a recovery, some have not. We will use the opportunity of our next face to face meeting to remember them.

GPs are embracing telemedicine and AI as the need presents. In my President’s column of November 2019 I reported that WONCA Executive had taken the decision to be involved in a pilot project with Ping-An Good Doctors Group, an established telemedicine services provider based in China, to contribute to the development of a family medicine specific telemedicine system. I am delighted that we took the lead on this initiative at such an early stage of the development of the system. WONCA’s direct involvement allowed us to inform and mould the developing system to suit family medicine, rather than trying to change the system after it had been developed by non-GP specialists.

Elsewhere in this edition of WONCA News you can read the assessment of the Ping-An Good Doctors telemedicine system by the independent consultants (more here). I look forward to further collaboration and developments with Ping-An Good Doctors, who have proved both receptive and responsive to WONCA’s recommendations and proposals. A family medicine-focused telemedicine system will enable us to provide the best possible consultations for our patients, when face to face consultations simply are not feasible.

Please stay safe. And stay informed from reputable sources.

Donald Li