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Doctors giving free telephonic consultations for Covid-19 symptoms

25 March 2020 - 17:45 By Suthentira Govender
Doctors are giving free telephonic advice to patients with possible Covid-19 symptoms.
Doctors are giving free telephonic advice to patients with possible Covid-19 symptoms.
Image: 123RF/Jarun Ontakrai

Hundreds of doctors are offering free telephonic consultations to anxious South Africans with possible Covid-19 symptoms through a helpline that went live on Wednesday.

Doctors On Call - a helpline manned by doctors - is a joint initiative by the KwaZulu-Natal Doctors Healthcare Coalition and Usizo Advisory Solutions.

Dr Anuschka Coovadia, one of the facilitators of the initiative, told TimesLIVE: "We have had an incredible response - about 400 doctors across the country.

"Initially we thought it was a KwaZulu-Natal initiative. We thought we would get about 10 doctors. But within 24 hours, we had hundreds of doctors around the country, interns and medical students, all wanting to be involved," she said.

"Right now we are in testing phase, but already we have had calls from throughout the country. We have to be very careful how we manage patients because we have limited resources. We also have to be mindful of exposing our doctors, because we don’t want to knock out the front line of the health care force."

The helpline is administered by a local call centre. All calls are received by a trained call centre agent, screened and then routed to a doctor-on-call for advice related to the virus.

Callers will pay only for the normal call and not for the consultation with the doctor.

Coovadia said the doctor network was trained according to national guidelines and standard operating processes and provided advice according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) guidelines.

"All calls are documented and reported using the Vula app. Referrals are made directly to the NICD for testing and results of the test will be captured on the Vula app," she explained.

"The output of the programme will be reported daily on a dashboard and then collated at the end of programme."

Coovadia said the initiative will help lessen the pressure on health care workers. "This can't take the place of face-to-face interaction with a doctor; it is just to help lessen the load," she said.

It would also help protect doctors, who are on the frontline, from infection.

"Right now we are building a plane as we fly. The NICD and the health department are aware of what we are doing. It reaffirms the fact that everybody is here to help. The doctors really understand the call to action the president gave us."

The Doctors on Call helpline number is 031 001 1299 and operates 8am-5pm.

Meanwhile, Momentum has committed additional resources to help the government in curbing the spread of Covid-19.

The support is in the form of HelloDoctor, Momentum’s telehealth capability, which provides access for its clients to doctors any time on any phone, in all official languages.

This service will be available to all South Africans at no charge nationally from Thursday. Gauteng residents can access the service from Wednesday.

"Without the need for airtime or data, South Africans will have access to a risk-assessment tool, which will trigger a callback from a doctor if need be, who will respond personally with telephonically advice. No call will go unanswered, not a single one," said Momentum in a statement.

Any South African can access the service by simply dialing *120*394# on their mobile phone and follow the menus.