Virtual GPs' weak pulse

26 May 2016 - 02:00 By KATHARINE CHILD

South Africans love their mobile phones, but not when they replace a doctor. Unlike the Chinese, South Africans have not taken to mobile consultations with GPs.In January Discovery launched a service that allows members to use a smartphone app to discuss symptoms with a GP over a video call.But, according to CEO Jonathan Broomberg, the South African uptake has been weak, although it has taken off in China.According to Broomberg, Discovery's business partner in China has a call centre that receives 150,000 calls or text messages a day.The phones are manned by nurses. They are supervised by doctors who can view pictures of symptoms sent in by callers.Broomberg said up to 60% of queries in China are resolved on the phone call or message.One reason the service has taken off in China is that a patient has to go to a hospital to see a doctor."Keeping so many people from having to see the doctor saves a lot of money," Broomberg said.In South Africa, where medical expenses rise above inflation each year, using video calls could be a good way to help people save valuable time and money, he said.About 100 doctors have signed up with Discovery to take video calls.More popular in South Africa is a separate service, Hello Doctor, which allows a doctor to call you back in an hour or a GP to answer a text message to give medical advice.Hello Doctor staff are banned by the regulator from making a diagnosis over the phone, viewing photos of symptoms or writing virtual scripts for treatment. It has 300,000 subscribers.

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