Telemedicine for All: A Q&A with Ronnie-Lee Sneh, 2023 JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow
Telemedicine is saving lives in the most remote parts of the world — and Ronnie-Lee Sneh got a firsthand look while in India.
By Ronnie-Lee Sneh - JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow | September 7, 2023
Ronnie-Lee Sneh has dedicated her life to improving health outcomes amongst the world’s most vulnerable populations. As a current JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow, Sneh was privileged to visit India and see firsthand how JDC is leveraging telemedicine technology to minimize health gaps in remote locations. Here, Sneh talks about her experience — what she saw, felt, and learned — and why it’s so important to support this life-saving work.
Q: You visited a few different hospitals in India. Why were you sent there? What was your mission/goal?
A: I went to India to evaluate telemedicine technology that JDC was leveraging in remote intensive-care units (ICUs). We worked with an evaluation professional, Stav Bar-Shani, to draft a Monitoring Learning and Evaluation model and a questionnaire for key stakeholders.
When the opportunity arose, I knew it would be a great way for me to learn about JDC’s impact, the evaluation process, meet partners and beneficiaries, and get a closer look at this innovative technology. Furthermore, I felt like it was the perfect mission for a RIG Fellow — to be on the ground representing JDC, gathering helpful information and data.
Q: What makes this technology so crucial in a place like Cachar and other remote locations? What gap is it filling?
A: This technology allows underserved, remote hospitals to bring in leading medical professionals and provide cutting-edge assistance. The Cachar Cancer and Research Hospital in Assam in Northeastern India doesn’t have an intensive-care doctor. But with telemedicine and remote patient monitoring technology, doctors and nurses located 2,000 miles away can advise the bedside team in real time, bringing top medical expertise to remote hospitals that lack 24/7 access to ICU specialist doctors. Also, they can build the local medical staff’s capacities by transferring their skills. This allows the local health professionals to learn even more.
Q: What is Cloudphysician, and what is its relationship to JDC?
A: Cloudphysician uses telemedicine technology to minimize healthcare gaps and make specialized care more accessible to India’s most vulnerable populations. JDC partnered with Cloudphysician to bring their technology to places in India that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it — like the Cachar hospital and the Mahatma Gandhi Tribal Hospital in Maharashtra.
Q: One of your passions is “street medicine,” and you have experience working with underserved populations in Israel. What was it like for you to witness these important medical innovations for similar populations in India?
A: Words cannot describe what it was like seeing this technology in such a remote place. And I was privileged to see both ends of Cloudphysician’s work, visiting their office in Bangalore and seeing their work in Cachar and Maharashtra.
Above all, I felt honored to be a part of JDC and witness the profound impact that telemedicine has in remote places — how it not only streamlined the hospitals’ work, but saved lives, too. Everyone should have access to these services.
Q: What was the hospital in Cachar like? What surprised you? What stays with you?
A: The hospital is medium-sized and welcoming. Because they serve mostly vulnerable communities from villages around the city, the management team thinks a lot about the way the hospital looks — it is clean, organized, and offers range of medical services, but it’s not so fancy that rural patients feel uncomfortable being there.
What I loved most about Cachar was the medical team and how much they think about the patients; they are all very compassionate and won’t deny care because a patient can’t pay. Most of them chose to leave a more conventional career path to work in this remote place.
From what I witnessed, this hospital is thoughtful about its patient care. I saw new medical equipment and a new blood bank. Even the cleaning staff was doing all the hospital’s laundry by hand, as they invest in quality care for patients.
Q: You ran a self-care group in Cachar. Talk about this. What self-care techniques did you teach them? Why is this work so important?
A: I conducted self-care classes for palliative care nurses and social workers. During my visit there, I understood that there is no program to address burnout amongst the nurses and social workers. Many of them do palliative care for years, in hospitals where the patients don’t get better — in fact, they witness patients’ deaths on a regular basis.
Seventeen nurses and social workers attended the session and shared their struggles and thoughts. We talked about the symptoms of burn-out and when it’s important to seek professional help and how to self-care. I taught them mindfulness techniques that clear the mind and relax emotions and thoughts, and we practiced them together.
Your body and soul aren’t a machine — you can’t replace them when they break: They’re your tools of work. This session enlarged my heart. I learned about the workload of these nurses and social workers, as well as their dedication and compassion for their patients.
Q: You also stayed in the Mahatma Gandhi Tribal Hospital in Maharashtra for six days and you visited the home of a community health worker. What was that like?
A: I had the amazing opportunity to conduct field work in both hospitals — to learn how they deliver medical care in villages, meet community health workers, and see the doctors and the nurses in action. It was spectacular to witness how they increase health awareness, mitigate stigma around certain illnesses, and gain the community’s trust. It was eye-opening to visit and learn more about the unique challenges of the people.
I also visited the home of Sakurai, one of the Mahatma Gandhi Tribal Hospital’s community health workers. She shared her knowledge on common diseases and how she keeps track of all the village’s children under age 5 to minimize malnutrition and better their health. She has medications and knows the exact symptoms of common illnesses and which medications to use. Each day, she conducts health seminars in women’s homes. “Why do you do this?” I asked. “Because I want my village to be healthy,” she said. “And I don’t want them to die from curable illnesses.”
Q: What else impressed you about your experience at the Mahatma Gandhi Tribal Hospital?
A: Mahatma Gandhi Tribal Hospital owns and operates a small factory for tribal therapeutic food which is baked and cooked from the local ingredients and aims to treat malnutrition, then handed out to community health workers to give to malnourished children.
They also have a mobile clinic that goes to villages around and provides medical care. I was lucky enough to join them when they treated 12 pregnant women from three different villages. Considering that I run a mobile clinic back in Israel, this experience was deeply meaningful.
Words cannot describe what it was like seeing this technology in such a remote place: Everyone should have access to these services.
Q: Why should people support this work?
A: Health is connected to all aspects of life and improving health also improves community. Telemedicine improves health. If someone is unwell, then even the best education won’t matter — but this technology minimizes health gaps, and when done correctly, it has the power to not only change one life, but the whole community.
Q: You spent six days with Jewish community of Mumbai. What did you do there? What did you participate in?
A: I visited the JDC-supported Evelyn Peters Jewish Community Center (EPJCC) in Mumbai, where I got to meet their amazing team and learn about their vital programs. I also visited Bayiti (the JDC-supported Jewish home for elderly Indian Jews), conducted a session to the women’s group about the Hebrew month of Iyar, and also presented about Ralph Goldman’s contribution to the state of Israel and the Jewish world during the Israeli Independence Day party!
My most memorable moment was when I sang “Hatikvah” with the Mumbai Jewish community. It was the first time I had sung it outside of Israel. There I was, in the middle of Mumbai with 70 other Jewish people, and I started crying. I thought of what Ralph Goldman once said: “There is a single Jewish world: intertwined, interconnected.”
Ronnie-Lee Sneh is a certified Social Worker and an MA in International Community Development. She has volunteered and worked in the humanitarian field in Uganda and Israel, where she gained insights into the unique challenges and acute burden of excluded communities, like refugees and people living in poverty. Sneh’s advanced interpersonal and communication skills enable her to build connections, coordinate between stakeholders and advocate for a cause.
These skills, together with her first-hand involvement working with people experiencing homelessness in emergency hostels, allowed her to identify a gap and act to fill it, spearheading a Street Medicine program in Israel, starting in Tel-Aviv. Supported by seed funding from the Pears Foundation, the program entered its second year and was recently awarded the prestigious Yigal Allon Prize (2022) for Pioneering Excellence in innovation in medicine. Sneh is a recent graduate of the CitiBank Foundation and PresenTense’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator, where she acquired skills and knowledge to expand Street Medicine to reach more people in need. In the past year, Sneh directed a dedicated medical team of doctors, medics, and medical students, raised funds and developed partnerships with stakeholders. She was born and raised in Jerusalem.