Innovative primary health service on WhatsApp costs below R95pm

National HealthCare's MediClub Connect provides all its members with online interactive access to doctors and nurses on WhatsApp

25 May 2020 - 13:29 By Pippa de Bruyn
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Providing a health care service on WhatsApp is a groundbreaking solution that provides quick diagnosis, solves the problem of overcrowded state facilities, and fulfils social distancing requirements.
Providing a health care service on WhatsApp is a groundbreaking solution that provides quick diagnosis, solves the problem of overcrowded state facilities, and fulfils social distancing requirements.
Image: 123RF/Vadim Loginov

When Dr Reinder Nauta, chair of the National HealthCare Group, first launched MediClub Premier in 2017, it was touted as a revolution in primary health care solutions.

For R162 per person per month, MediClub Premier not only offered employers affordable health care cover for employees, but the most comprehensive in this sector: access to a network of more than 3,000 doctors, all three major pathology labs, most radiologists, and medication from all the national pharmacy networks countrywide.

Now, with MediClub Connect, National HealthCare is again at the forefront of innovating health care cover. Working with mobile communications and chat commerce company Clickatell, National HealthCare has developed a product that provides all its members online interactive access to doctors and nurses on WhatsApp, physical consultations with doctors on referral, and all prescribed medication, for a maximum R95 per employee per month.

The benefits of this new initiative are manifold. Speedy diagnosis is not only critical to the psychological and physical wellbeing of employees, but represents a concrete saving to employers: according to estimates made by Stats SA, absenteeism costs the SA economy more than R12bn each year.

According to Mandla Moyo, National HealthCare’s financial director, some MediClub clients have reduced company absenteeism by as much as 37% since signing up in 2018, a saving that far outweighs the monthly cost of MediClub.  

With the current Covid-19 requirements unlikely to blow over any time soon, and fear likely to increase absenteeism in its wake, providing an easy, accessible health care solution on WhatsApp can help address the critical issue of overcrowded state facilities, and the problem of social distancing when needing to see a doctor.

Dr Reinder Nauta, chair of the National HealthCare Group.
Dr Reinder Nauta, chair of the National HealthCare Group.
Image: Supplied/National HealthCare

As Pieter de Villiers, CEO and co-founder of Clickatell, puts it, “Providing a health care service on WhatsApp is really a groundbreaking solution within SA’s health care sector.”

It’s also a remarkably simple solution. A series of prompts via WhatsApp will help identify your issues, advise you on the necessary steps to health, or refer you to a telephonic or video consultation with a doctor.

“After this consultation, the doctor may either prescribe your medication, which can be collected at any pharmacy on the national network, or refer the patient to the nearest network doctor for a physical consultation,” says National HealthCare CEO, Patrick Lubbe.

“Within the cost-control arrangement between companies and National HealthCare, the predicted costs to employers are capped at R95 per person per month, but are likely to be less.”

According to Gary Scott of NMG Actuaries and Consultants: “The announcement by the Council of Medical Schemes in 2019 that health insurance products would become outlawed during 2021 is of concern, because conversion to medical aid schemes will be too expensive for many corporates.” 

By contrast, the National HealthCare model whereby corporates provide for a maximum monthly health care expense per employee on their own balance sheets, has already been shown to be far more cost-effective. “In some cases, it has saved as much as 40% when compared to health insurance premiums,” says Lubbe.

For Nauta, there is no time to lose. “The proposed introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI) represents a fundamental reform of the private sector. About 16-million South Africans are, or were, employed in the formal and informal sector; of that only 4-million have access to medical cover. Yet if NHI were to be implemented, it would come as a series of major shocks to the entire health care system.

The National HealthCare network includes 3,000 general practitioners like this one, all three major pathology labs, most radiologists, and all the national pharmacy networks countrywide.
The National HealthCare network includes 3,000 general practitioners like this one, all three major pathology labs, most radiologists, and all the national pharmacy networks countrywide. 
Image: Supplied/National HealthCare

“We believe we need to be proactive in developing viable solutions to pave the way for the NHI, such as MediClub Connect. With this we can try to eliminate the inequity with regards to health care, and ensure that each employee’s basic health needs are met.”

National HealthCare is backed by, among others, Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital. Several medical schemes such as Sizwe and Makoti already use National HealthCare as a network for low-cost options, covering more than 40,000 beneficiaries.

But for Nauta, the drive now is to find leaders who understand that offering employees efficient health cover during this challenging time will not only reduce absenteeism, but signal company values — caring, solidarity, loyalty. “The effect on morale is unquestionable.”

Hungry Lion CEO Adrian Basson, who has signed up all 3,000 of his employees, agrees: “I know my staff need peace of mind in these stressful times. With most of them required to stay at home, I want to provide them with an affordable health care solution; one that allows them access to professional medical advice without unnecessarily exposing them to public hospitals or waiting room queues.

“With MediClub Connect I know they are getting quality primary care, at an unbeatable rate, with no attendant risk. It’s a classic win-win.” 

This article was paid for by National HealthCare.