Hello doctor, help please

The modern patient is all set to derive the maximum from his mobile phone. Chennai-based Seshadri Murani, a 35-year old corporate employee values the quick medical treatment which he recently experienced, courtesy mobile health (m-health). Murani works in a BPO company and serves erratic working hours. Thus, he has no time to go through the long process of: fixing up an appointment with the doctor, traveling to his clinic and then getting the prescription for his ailment. “I do not have the patience to go to the hospital for a small problem like skin allergy. The same advice and prescription can be given on the phone through m-health facility of good hospitals in less than Rs 50, as compared to Rs 500 consultation fee of the doctor, if visited,” says Murani, who recently used the Apollo Hospitals’ m-health service for his skin ailment.

Increasing awareness among patients like Murani is compelling healthcare players such as Apollo Hospitals, Dr. Batra’s, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Maestros Mediline Systems to serve m-health applications to their patients. On the other hand, telecom operators are also encouraging these initiatives, as they are hit by the declining average revenue per user.

Apollo Hospitals launched its m-health services in January this year in partnership with Aircel and has already received 10,000 calls in its Medical Response Centre (MRC). Charles Antony, IT advisor Apollo Hospitals Group and CEO Healthnet Global says, “We have MRCs in Chennai and Hyderabad with a combined headcount of 50. These centres have doctors and nurses trained by Apollo Hospitals. Patients call for anything ranging from obesity, weight loss, cold, flu etc here. Beyond giving advice, we also give appointments with doctors on the call if needed. In some cases, these doctors also prescribe medicines which can be delivered at home.”

Antony adds that the telecom operators and hospitals to do their own share of marketing through posters, magazine ads etc. It is the job of the telecom operators to make their consumers aware that these services are being provided. Healthnet Global, as a company has a revenue sharing model with the telecom operators and the hospitals. “We have presence in eight cities right now, and would have pan India presence by next month,” notes Antony.

It is not just the educated class who are taking advantage of the m-health services. The convergence of technology with health practices is spread across rural areas as well. Vinanyak Deshpande, business head, Telemedicine at Maestros Mediline Systems shares an interesting example with us: “We have partnerships with telecom operators such as Blackberry and Vodafone for conducting ECG screening of potential cardiac patients in the rural areas. There are screening camps held by the partner company of Maestros in rural areas of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. In the last three months, Maestros has conducted 3,500 ECGs through mhealth. The report is provided to the patients within half an hour.”

There tests are conducted by technicians present in the rural areas with the help of the mobile phone. The screening is then sent to the doctors sitting in the metros. Then the doctors make the ECG report and send back to the patients in non urban areas.

Vinayak explains that the business model of Maestros has no monetary exchange with the telecom operators as well as the hospitals. As the mobile health technology used here is in a nascent stage, the telecom operators and hospitals want to encourage it through free promotion.

Dr. Batra’s, the country’s leading homeopathy chain has been providing m-health to patients for a year now. The services provided through mobile phone by the Dr. Batra’s include clinic locator, registration, case history in brief, online chat with doctors for medical queries and tips, appointment request and re-schedule, and for commencing or renewing treatment plans. “The service benefits people having hectic schedules, who want to avoid travel but benefit and also to the general public. This service can be availed of by patients irrespective of whether they are a patient of Dr.Batra’s or not,” says a company spokesperson.

A recent report on mobile value added services by Deloitte states that in India, m-health services are in a fairly nascent stage. A few pilots are being conducted but currently these services in India have shown little uptake/adoption. There is a lot of scope for immediate deployment of information based services on a large scale. Also, lessons from global initiatives in this area can help to deploy application and enablement services effectively.

Globally, m-health initiatives have spanned across the three service categories of information, application and enablement. Governments of many countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East have adopted mobile value added services (MVAS) to spread awareness about, and thus control the spread of chronic diseases such as AIDS as a first step. Additionally, MVAS has been used by many countries to increase access to healthcare services by initiatives such as providing training to healthcare workers, and interactive information services for particular medical conditions.

Sandeep Biswas, director at Deloitte India concludes, “At present, large hospitals and multinational pharmaceutical companies are adopting m-health. But in the coming future, we will see even big diagnostic centres as one of the preferred users of m-health.” He further adds that the next two years will offer an established m-health market to India.