, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 24 – An innovative service where Kenyans can access medical consultation over the phone has been introduced by mobile phone service provider Safaricom and Call-a-Doc limited, an establishment that deals with dissemination of medical information using modern communication tools.
Under the 24-hour service christened ‘Daktari 1525’; sick people can call in and speak to a doctor to receive expert advice on any health-related issue.
“The people who answer the call are qualified doctors who are registered by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Board and they are stationed at the Safaricom’s call centre, one at Westlands and another at Mlolongo,” Polly Okello a director at Call-a-Doc limited told Capital News.
“Other doctors are able to receive calls remotely using technology,” he added.
But the doctors will not prescribe treatment to the callers.
The partnership has Safaricom offering network infrastructure, call centre facility and marketing of the service at a cost of Sh15 million while Call-a-Doc recruits qualified doctors.
According to Okello, already 50 doctors – both general and specialists – are involved in the service.
“We plan the shift. In high peak hours you can find 15 doctors at the call centre but low peak hours we can have as low as four doctors so it depends with the time of day and the anticipated call volume,” he says adding that most of the doctors do this part time.
The service is aimed at decongesting outpatient units in government hospitals and other health facilities.
“Research has shown that 50-60 percent of patients who go to hospitals don’t need to so this is a quick, reliable, safe and accessible service where you can get credible information,” he says.
To access the service, users will be required to dial the code ‘1525’ which will go directly to the Safaricom call centre at a cost of Sh20 per minute.
“We grappled with the pricing for a long time but the fact of the matter is, the most expensive component of the service is the doctor. But we are also looking into ways of subsidising the call cost soon through partnerships,” he said.
The Medical Practitioners and Dentist Board Chief Executive Officer Daniel Yumbya is of the opinion that the service, which targets both rural and urban population, is a venture that could succeed or fail.
“It is a good attempt to venture into the field; however we would like to caution the practitioners involved that they must remain ethical and must at all times uphold professional confidentiality,” he said in an interview with Capital News.
Yumbya expressed concern over the quality of service that will be provided by the doctors saying “In medicine, touch, feel and see are key vital signs that medics embrace in their practice so I am a bit hesitant to say how much it will impact on a patient whom the medic has not been able to see.”
He is also worried about the possibility of abuse of the service by unscrupulous callers.
“When a patient consults a doctor, it’s between the doctor and the patient even at times a spouse is kept away from the consultation room. Where you are going on line, how sure are you that the information is not going to somebody else who is not intended to?” he posed.
“You may decide to consult on my behalf, how will the doctor know it is the patient? You can go ahead and give symptoms that you think I have and then you get advice,” he said.
His other concern is that the service could pose a challenge to the board in case a patient decides to sue or appeal to the board for intervention where they allege to have received wrong medical advice.
“When we are looking at such cases, we look at the notes; in this case what evidence will they keep?” he questions.
Current statistics indicate that in Kenya, one doctor attends to over 10,000 patients against the World Health Organisation recommended ratio of 1:600.
There are about 7,500 licensed medical facilities in the country.
“Bearing in mind that we have over 25 million mobile phones and a limited number of hospitals, it goes without saying that mobile technology could be successfully deployed to create effective solutions for the capacity challenges of our healthcare system,” said Okello, at the launch of the service.