The French Embassy in Vietnam has announced the launch of a website called ‘Doctors Answer,’ which was developed by Sandrine Egron, a young scientist and entrepreneur.
The website, which is now accessible at https://bac-si-giai-dap.com, provides useful information on asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In the first stage, the website is focused on providing knowledge that can help answer the most common questions from patients who are concerned about COPD and asthma, according to Egron.
The website is a joint effort of some of the leading experts in respiratory diseases from France and Vietnam.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper talked to Egron about the project and her sympathy for Vietnamese patients via the initiative.
How long have you been in Vietnam? What brought you to our country?
When I was 10-12 years old, one of my best friends was of Vietnamese origin. I still remember hearing her father speak Vietnamese. It was not until 2017 that I reached Vietnam while traveling across Asia.
My first days here were very exciting. I was impressed as the country was full of energy and people made me feel like home. Vietnamese people are really hospitable and easy to make friends.
As a specialist in medical devices, I was invited to the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Hospital [University Medical Center Ho Chi Minh City] to observe a heart valve replacement operation using state-of-the-art technology. I also met Vietnamese entrepreneurs in telemedicine and visited the laboratory of Professor Vo Van Toi in biomedical engineering. This lab is so amazing. It makes me want to be a student again.
I also found how crowded public hospitals in Vietnam are, and how challenging it is for doctors and nurses to focus on patients and give them enough time they need.
This made me think about the introduction of the latest innovation in digital health like algorithms that can detect heart arrhythmia from electrocardiograms, or help diabetic people control their blood sugar level, or personalize the treatment plan for a cancer patient.
We need to develop more innovative solutions here in Vietnam, with Vietnamese doctors and nurses and with Vietnamese partners, for the sake of patients in the public system.
Less than a year later [March 2018], I moved to Ho Chi Minh City and started with InnYTe, a digital health hub.
|Sandrine Egron speaks at the Techfest event in the central city of Da Nang, Vietnam in November 2018. Photo: InnYTe|
What do you like the most about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City in particular?
Now I am living on a quiet street in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a great place to live in. I discovered Binh Thanh had made it to the list of the world’s 40 coolest neighborhoods by Time Out magazine.
I do like the mix of cultures here. You can meet people from Europe, America, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and others in a friendly atmosphere at any Vietnamese coffee shops and street food stalls.
Of course, I have to talk about food. For French people, food is an important thing. We can discuss our favorite dishes and bakeries for hours. I was excited that Vietnamese people share this passion, and I also fell in love with Vietnamese food, its aromas and flavors.
As a PhD holder in medical sciences and an entrepreneur in digital health, can you talk more of your career?
As I started studying mathematics, physics, and engineering, I decided to pursue the use of scientific knowledge to work in the healthcare sector.
There are two reasons for my decision. First, I love to work with healthcare professionals and build better devices to take care of patients. I admire hospital workers who dedicate their time and energy to helping patients. Three of my relatives are nurses and I’m proud of them.
The second reason is that I am fascinated by science and innovation. I love learning about breakthroughs in biology, artificial intelligence, and physics. All scientific fields can support the development of the medical sector, open new opportunities for innovation, and assist researchers.
What has prompted you to the idea of launching the website?
The COVID-19 epidemic prompted the idea of launching the website.
When the epidemic broke out, we all suddenly paid much attention to respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing and coughing. These symptoms, when turning chronic, can be indicative of COPD, the third primary cause of mortality according to the World Health Organization. Yet most people have never heard about it.
In March 2020, the Vietnamese government managed to bring the epidemic under control, and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc underscored that it is crucial and urgent to diagnose chronic diseases.
His statement was so important that it could warn people of lung diseases and chronic ailments. We could use it to explain to people the importance of early diagnosis. That is the first target of the website – raising awareness of chronic respiratory diseases.
The epidemic put more pressure on patients already diagnosed with chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD. The need for reliable, easy-to-understand, and reassuring information had never been so big. That is the second goal of the website – helping patients deal with their chronic conditions in everyday life.
In the coming time, we will supply more information on other chronic diseases. We are preparing and adding content to the website while listening to patient feedback to improve the platform along the way.
Although the ‘Doctors Answer’ is a not-for-profit website, it apparently cost you a lot of energy, time, and money. How have you kept moving forward with this project?
You are right. The website takes time, energy, and resources. But it is totally worth it!
Detecting chronic diseases early is a crucial matter, and chronic patients need more support. A lot of patients told me the same sentence: “I am worried.” Most patients do not know how to deal with their condition in everyday life. It is a physical and mental burden for them and their families. We can change this. You can help us change this.
Besides, I have a great pleasure working with French and Vietnamese professors and doctors. Some medical students and developers have also supported the project.
Have you faced any challenges in building the website?
It takes time and patience. We must guarantee the quality of information we provide, and all the medical professionals involved have their full-time jobs already. Still, they show strong enthusiasm and are willing to support and work hard after their office hours to produce content for the website as fast as possible.
|From left: Dr. Le Thi Tuyet Lan, chairwoman of the Ho Chi Minh City Society of Asthma, Allergy, and Clinical Immunology; Thomas Mourez, health and social development attaché at the Embassy of France in Vietnam; an interpreter; and Sandrine Egronat pose for a picture at the launch of the ‘Doctors Answer’ website in Ho Chi Minh City, October 13, 2020. Photo: Kim Thoa / Tuoi Tre News|
How could you win the massive support from leading experts?
Professor Dinh Xuan Anh Tuan [professor of respiratory physiology and medicine at Université de Paris] is the cornerstone of the cooperation among experts. He is wise and dedicated to medical students and the research career
When Tuan presented the initiative to his colleagues, they immediately offered their support. I am glad to work with such an amazing team and I am trying to do my best out of this unique opportunity.
Their support is essential in making the initiative widely known and creating a long-term impact.
Could you share some of your plans in Vietnam in the long term?
Of course, there are several projects we are working on.
First, we will add an option enabling visitors to send in their questions. We are setting up a simple and reliable process to reply to visitors and add most frequently asked questions.
We have also prepared an interactive Symptoms and Risks Questionnaire to help people identify their own risks and decide whether they need a check-up. Once this questionnaire is reviewed, tested, and approved, we will add it to the platform.
In addition, Pr. Tuan and some leading Vietnamese experts have plans to publish useful resources for healthcare professionals. This will be added to the website on a separate tab. While the website is running, InnYTe is developing an application to improve chronic disease management. The two main targets are to improve patients’ quality of life and reduce the risk of hospitalization among those with chronic diseases. Stay tuned as we will launch a pilot program with COPD patients in Vietnam soon.
Thank you so much for the interview!