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     Volume 6 Issue 36 | September 14, 2007 |

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Call a Doctor Anytime

Elita Karim

The whole purpose of the '789' Healthline service is to provide quick and immediate diagnosis to an ailment
between the first ten and fifteen minutes after detection.

Telecom companies have introduced a massive change in the field of communication in the country. Mobile phones today have several value added services created to keep users updated with the current news, latest trends and even manage their bank accounts through phone banking. Very recently, Grameen Phone launched yet another value added service, Healthline, for its subscribers, collaborating with Telemedicine Reference Centre Ltd. (TRCL), a local electronic medical consultancy firm.

Licensed physicians are just a call away. Dialling 789, GP users are able to reach a doctor and get immediate help at the 24-hour call centre at a cost of Tk 15 for the first three minutes and Tk 5 per minute for the following minutes.

It all began back in 2004, when the concept of rendering Telemedicine, especially to the people belonging to the rural areas of the country, at an international conference. "Thank fully, Grameen Phone actually understood the concept and came forward to work on our proposal," says Md. Manzur Murshed, the Director of TRCL. "Our idea was to render this particular service to the ones who would not have immediate access to medical help." Murshed talks about cases where they received calls from people stuck on the road or families who did not have any way of transporting a sick patient in the middle of the night. "A few days ago, our doctors were giving instructions to family members of a woman who got accidentally burnt," he says. "They were bringing her to a hospital in Dhaka all the way from Gazipur. The wounds would have gotten worse if they weren't given some preliminary treatment."

The '789' Healthline service was officially launched on November 4, 2006. The response was enormous, after the first phase of electronic and print based promotion of this service was showcased all over the country. "Many of the calls were made simply to check if there was such a service available," says Murshed. "We would receive at least 70,000 calls within 24 hours back then."

The doctors work in shifts so the call centre operates 24 hours of the day.

At the centre, located at Dhanmondi 15, the whole day has been scheduled into three shifts - 8 am - 2:30 pm, 2:30 pm - 9:30 pm and 9:30 pm - 8 am the next day. "Our call centres have young and trained doctors, prepared to take on any kind of health and medical problem. "We emphasise a lot on interpersonal relationships between the doctors who have to spend hours together at the call centre," says Murshed. "We have special peer evaluation sessions where one doctor has to comment on his or her co-worker. In fact, in each shift we make sure that an equal ratio of both male and female doctors attend to the calls," Murshed further points out that the management also makes it a point to hire doctors from all religions. "Our centre provides medical services 24 / 7. Keeping our doctors and medical practitioners comfortable and satisfied is the only way we can expect proper diagnosis from them." In case the doctors at the call centres are unable to help out the caller, the calls are immediately transferred to the senior experts and specialists present at the centre. "The other day a call was transferred to one of the senior professor here, who spoke for hours to a young girl who was probably mentally upset and needed psychological assistance."

The whole purpose of the '789' Healthline service is to provide quick and immediate diagnosis to an ailment between the first ten and fifteen minutes after detection. "We have the tendency to ignore minor pain in the chest at times," says Delwar Hossain Azad, the Head of New Initiatives, Commercial Division of Grameen Phone. "People either don't like to disturb their family doctors late at night, or simply ignore the pain, assuming it to be something related to stress or other minor causes. However, these kinds of minor pains lead to major heart attacks and eventually death. In this case, the first few moments are extremely crucial and can save lives."

Through telemedicine, Grameen Phone is not only pursuing yet another form of business through the mobile phone, but is also spreading this innovative method and helping people, living in rural areas especially, get access to quick medical services. "During curfews, roadblocks or even during heavy rainfalls or floods, all one has to do is remember the number 789, if any emergency occurs," he says. This service was recently recognised and given the GSMA (Global System of Mobile Awards) accolade. "Frankly speaking, this is not a profit driven venture on our part." A part of the Grameen Phone CSR project, to Azad, the call centre is fascinating and rewarding as more and more people are calling in.

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