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Health professionals donating work hours: an initiative for improving access to healthcare in Brazil: case study and initial results

Abstract

Background Even with a universal public health system, the Brazilian population faces inequalities on access to healthcare. Long queues for medical appointments, caused by lack of professionals, space and equipment, are barriers for those who cannot pay for treatments. However, health professionals working in the private sector may have free hours at their clinics which they can donate.

Objectives We report the implementation of a non-governmental initiative for connecting health professionals willing to volunteer and patients needing healthcare services, and present the initial results concerning access to healthcare.

Methods The network ‘Horas da Vida’ was created in Brazil to connect health professionals and patients. We analysed the number of patients and professionals involved, specialties, visits and services provided, and economic values.

Results In 2016, 1748 professionals were involved with the network. 6967 services were provided (1831 consultations) to 1974 patients, most of whom were unemployed and with low income, and 20% were illiterate. Medical, dental, nutritional, physical therapy or psychological consults, simple therapeutic procedures, eyeglasses, and educational services were provided by psychologists (29%), dentists (6%), nutritionists (5%) and physical therapists (5%). Only 5% of physicians were general practitioners. We calculated the cost of care at R$985 979.21 in 2016 (or US$314 446.74 on 18 September 2017).

Conclusions The Horas da Vida network made it easy to organise a schedule and identify free hours in the clinics that could be used for volunteering and for providing health assistance to a large number of socially deprived and economically vulnerable patients.

  • volunteering
  • health care
  • public health system
  • social network
  • volunteer network
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