By mid-2015 more than 400 000 people in South Africa and double this number in Indonesia will access a new form of primary healthcare.
The mobile health service Hello Doctor is rolling out to emerging market countries across Africa and Indonesia and helping people to take charge of their health in an innovative and affordable way.
The service provides information via sms, text messaging and call-backs over mobile phones. It’s made available by Hello Doctor, the Cape Town company behind the hugely successful television service of the same name.
The company has partnered with MTN to provide personalized medical advice and information – in the form of daily health tips – to its subscribers in eight emerging market countries across Africa.
In addition to the launch of the personalized health tips, Hello Doctor will also offer services like Text-a-doctor and Talk-to-a-doctor, again in partnership with service providers like MTN & Vodacom in South Africa, MTN in the rest of Africa and Telkomsel in Indonesia.
“We aim to empower ordinary people, people who may be under-served by professional health services, to take control of their health and that of their families through this mobile-health offering,” says Andy Milne, CEO of Hello Doctor. The services are available to users of all types of cell-phones, not just smart phones.
The service is not aiming to replace a face-to-face consultation with a doctor, nor is it an emergency service. “We do not diagnose and we do not prescribe,” Milne says. “We are more interested in providing information and primary health care services to our clients. It is hard to overstate the importance of preventative healthcare in emerging markets.”
Sexual health, pregnancy, weight loss and childcare are the most requested topics by users, says Milne. He adds that those who subscribe to the daily health tips can select from a range of specific subjects including heart-disease management, addiction, childcare, chronic-diseases and pregnancy. In South Africa this service will be charged at a premium sms rate per day, part of which is paid to the mobile operator.
The premium offering provides customers with the option of connecting to a doctor via a one on one text chat or by logging a call – after which a doctor will call you back within the hour. “If more people knew that dehydration caused by diarrhoea could be avoided by drinking half a cup of sugar/salt solution every 15 minutes, fewer children would die. This is the type of service we can provide.”
The company, which is owned by insurance giant MMI Holdings and management, is still in a growth phase. By mid-2015 it expects to have 400 000 users in South Africa and double that number in Indonesia. Break-even Milne says, will come at about 220 000 users per country.
The company has access to 220 million cell-phone users who, Milne says, can afford the service.
In particular Milne has big expectations of the Kenyan market, which is highly mobile-enabled and where mobile commerce is a fast developing market.
In time Hello Doctor will extend health insurance services to its mobile customers. “We want to close the loop on health inclusion,” says Milne. “If you have a health related incident – a shack fire, or an accident – we can cover you at minimal cost.”