During AfricaCom 2016, the continent’s landmark event dedicated to the telecoms and technology industry, Director at Hello Doctor, Dr Michael Mol, presented a keynote case study on driving access to mHealth services.

Hello Doctor is designed to provide patients with instant access to personalised health, wellness and medical information via their mobile phones, connecting them with registered doctors anytime, anywhere.

Speaking during the Mobile Finance & Commerce track, a part of the programme mandated to shining a light on greater financial inclusion through mobile innovations and digital transformation and agile IT for enterprises, Dr Mol shared Hello Doctor’s successes and lessons learnt in rolling out their mHealth service to the African market.

Dr Mol explained that their subscription-based service is available in several African countries, including South Africa, Zambia, Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya, among others.

“What’s important is that we looked at a different telemedicine or mHealth solutions around the world and many of them rely on users having to call into call centres manned by doctors,” said Dr Mol.

“The problem with that is that very few people have decent airtime; when you get a call and the user drops the call, you are then unable to trace that user, and it’s now a lost opportunity and an unpleasant experience,” continued Dr Mol.

According to Dr Mol, what has made Hello Doctor successful is their Access to Doctors feature, a call-back service that allows subscribers instant access to doctors.

While largely successful in most African countries where it’s been implemented, the uptake of the Access to Doctors feature was disappointing in Kenya, despite getting buy-in from the Kenyan Ministry of Health.

Dr Mol noted that the product, called Sema Doc in Kenya, was too complex for the Kenyan market because people were unwilling to subscribe to a monthly service, and as a result Hello Doctor had to re-sell their product to the same individuals every month, which wasn’t sustainable.

Dr Mol cited the subscription model as the biggest lesson they learnt. “Using airtime as a currency and subscription models directed at users didn’t work. Users didn’t like the idea of subscribing to a service in case they need it.”

Hello Doctor charged a subscription fee of about 95c per day, although this was a minimal amount, the model didn’t work because most users didn’t have airtime; on average there were only four or five days a month where the users had airtime.

“We’ve realised that people still only contact the doctor when they think they need them. Our big drive is to move from cure to prevention. We’ve turned our focus away from increasing utilisation, to increasing activity and engagement, to focussing on the health tips and our content to drive utilisation,” said Dr Mol.

Another interesting point was that Hello Doctor identified 30 conditions in Kenya that could be safely diagnosed and prescribed for without a face-to-face consultation. As a result  doctors in Kenya are able to diagnose, prescribe and send scripts via SMS to users who only need to present their SMS to a pharmacist who validates it and dispenses the medicine. This service is currently not offered in SA, where the Hello Doctor service is restricted to mainly medical advice.

“I think the whole idea of telemedicine is not a case of if it’s going to happen; it’s a case of when it’s going to happen. Particularly in Africa, its one solution that really has the potential to answer the healthcare crisis that we have,” concluded Dr Mol.

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