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Letters to the Editor

On the Frontlines, Behind the Computer Screen

De Sá Dias Machado, Maria Beatriz

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003601
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To the Editor:

When the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Brazil, medical students across the country were overcome with anxiety. We were sure we would be directly involved in patient care, and we were ready and excited to help.

To our surprise, what happened was just the opposite. When quarantine started, our in-person activities were gradually suspended. Universidade Estadual de Campinas, one of the most prestigious universities in Brazil, chose to remove students completely from the hospital and from any in-person activities to protect us. Only a few theoretical classes were maintained online. Even the students closest to graduation, considered almost doctors, were completely dismissed. We swapped the active routine of the wards, clinics, and shifts for isolation at home, while the largest pandemic in our lifetimes unfolded before our eyes.

Dismay and disappointment among students at all levels were palpable. We wanted to get involved, while also acknowledging the need for the most experienced professionals to be on the frontlines and understanding the need to ration personal protective equipment. We knew that getting us out of the hospital was the safest choice.

Our desire to help from afar drove the creation of a call center program to assist in the battle against COVID-19. The initiative came from medical and nursing students and was supported by the university. The computing department created a phone line, and students signed up to work the call center. Professors volunteered to consult and train students. In a few weeks, Telessaúde was created.

Telessaúde is a free service available to anyone who has questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides guidance to those who need to seek health services. Senior medical and nursing students were trained in the main concerns, symptoms, preventive measures, and warning signs of COVID-19. In every shift, a responsible professor is available to answer students’ questions by phone. In the first month, we served approximately 1,000 callers. The Telessaúde program has since expanded to other universities and is now a national call center.

Despite removing medical students from the hospital, we still learned by working in groups; creating solutions to identified problems; and learning from our colleagues in medicine, nursing, and computing. We are not providing care as we expected, but we are being useful and helping people even from behind the computer screen.

Acknowledgments:

The author would like to congratulate all the nursing and medical students and professors involved in the creation of the Telessaúde call center program and to thank Professor Marco Antonio de Carvalho Filho for all his support and encouragement.

Copyright © 2020 by the Association of American Medical Colleges