Two Western Cape doctors’ vision of building low-cost private clinics for those who cannot afford private health care is coming to life, slowly but surely. Wade Palmer (30) and Savanah Smith (29) say they have always known that they were born to help others.
In fact, Palmer was just 10 when he had clarity about his future career.
“My love for helping people, being rooted in and serving the community was inspired by my grandparents who never turned away people who needed help. As I grew up, I realised my love for the human body and how it functions, and this birthed the desire to be a doctor,” he tells Health For Mzansi.
On the other hand, Smith never had any doubts that she would become a medical doctor. She says, “I’ve always wanted to become a doctor, and I don’t come from a family of doctors where I would say I was influenced by someone in the family, so it was my dream.”
Inspired to help the needy
Palmer and Smith were equally inspired to help the less fortunate – an inner mandate that eventually sparked their drive to help the people of Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats.
“I spent 2020 in the rural town of Christiana in North West. Serving this community gave me a true insight of what healthcare is like for the majority of our people in South Africa. The healthcare sector in that province was understaffed; under-resourced with under-skilled staff who were not focused on wellness,” Palmer explains.
Upon moving back to the Western Cape, he found himself drawn towards “providing quality, accessible and holistic wellness management for our marginalised communities.”
Meanwhile, Smith admits the anxiety levels experienced during her community service years on the Cape Flats nearly caused her to leave medicine for a while.
“It was in Mitchells Plain that I realised that the healthcare system was not only failing many patients but also many healthcare workers. I found myself suffering from burnout and made the decision to take a break from clinical medicine. But when Covid-19 hit South Africa, I found myself back in clinical medicine and this is where I regained my passion for healthcare,” she says.
This has proven to be a major turning point in Smith’s life. “We have now opened up Innohealth Clinics with the goal to provide low-cost quality healthcare to the community, and the experience has been amazing thus far.”
Taking the time to truly know patients
Palmer adds that as healthcare workers they face many challenges in the field. These range from politics, lack of resources, patient burden, excessive workloads and poverty.
They both agree that a lack of communication and time is holding back the Mzansi health system. They say there simply isn’t enough time for healthcare professionals to examine, talk and understand their patients.
Palmer says as doctors in public healthcare they were not afforded the time or opportunity to truly treat patients the right way. Now, being in private practice, lightens up the load.
“Consultations should not have a time limit. We miss too many things not affording our patients the time to communicate with us and then also time for them to listen to and understand their diagnosis and medication.
“Being in the state sector is way too rushed, whereas now I get to rewrite the script for myself and other young healthcare workers that decide to join me on the mission to changing how healthcare and wellness is delivered to our communities,” he adds.
Also, many healthcare workers are unable to communicate with patients in their native tongues, so a lot is often missed when having to speak English or Afrikaans only.
That being said, it is heart-warming that patients appreciate efforts made to help them in their mother tongues.
Early detection saves lives
The young doctors are, however, concerned that poverty and food insecurity plays a major role in the illnesses their patients face. Unfortunately, they don’t truly have enough influence nor capacity to assist with the greater well-being of patients.
According to Smith a lack of health education plays a major role is misunderstandings in communities. “Daily, we are having to explain to many of our patients the importance of prevention and early screening because they know less about these.”
Smith adds that “it is important that people understand the importance of prevention and early screening. These two play a major role in many illnesses like cervical cancer and pap smears, health lifestyle and diabetes mellitus, men having their prostates checked regularly, mammograms and breast cancer. Knowing this will exempt them from sicknesses linked to these conditions.”
The doctor-duo are hopeful that their private low-cost clinic can bring some change in the scope of the healthcare system in South Africa.
“Our first clinic opened its doors in November 2021. Since then, we have seen more than 700 patients. We’re looking to add a women’s wellness clinic as well as a baby clinic in the next few months,” Smith says.
Palmer adds, “The goal is to have five clinics in the Western Cape by end of 2022 with a few mobile clinics in small towns such as Paarl, Worcester, and Wellington where consultations will occur via the virtual healthcare app and facilitated by professional nurses.”