Mobile Diagnosis of 340 Diseases Using SMS

02 Infectious Disease, 07 Health, Mobile

Get diagnosed by SMS

Patients will be able to access a telemedicine system for medical advice

Jan 23, 2011 11:29 PM | By KEVIN SHALVEY

Imagine you’re a two-day trip away from the nearest doctor and are starting to experience flu-like symptoms, but you’re unsure if it’s malaria, swine flu or merely a common cold.

Why not just SMS a doctor and be diagnosed over the phone?

By March, you’ll be able to do just that.

Telemedicine, as long-distance diagnosing, teaching and monitoring is known, will soon be introduced across the country, said executives of MTN and Sanlam, who have teamed up to develop and launch the technology.

“What it means is that a number of services can be offered through the mobile phone,” said MTN corporate affairs executive Rich Mkhondo yesterday. “You would be able to speak to a health professional qualified to diagnose.”

Sanlam Health CEO Grant Newton said the two companies have spent more than 10 years developing a series of questions that patients will answer by SMS or on the phone, which will enable doctors to diagnose 340 diseases.

Patients will be required to key in “yes” or “no” answers to a series of voice prompts and then will be given a likely diagnosis and told how soon they need to see a doctor.

“It will offer a number of possible – and I want to stress ‘possible’ – diagnoses. It would answer how soon a patient would need to get to hospital,” Newton said.

The companies plan to employ doctors and nurses at call centres to talk to patients and diagnose them over the phone.

The service will be accessible only by MTN subscribers.

Newton said he did not want to reveal “too much” about the “multiple, multiple million-rand” service, but confirmed that some of the technology will be available by March.

General practitioner Giles Hartman said telemedicine was a “very, very good idea” , especially for people in rural areas who had limited access to doctors.

The companies are still working on a pricing structure. For patients who need daily or weekly monitoring the price will vary, Newton said.

“The more involved you get with a patient, the more it’s going to cost.”

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