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Vodacom, Discovery launch free COVID-19 telemedicine platform

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Vodacom and Discovery have partnered to deliver what they call "a simple but powerful online healthcare platform for the benefit of all South Africans during the COVID-19 pandemic".

According to the companies, “this platform provides easy access for all South Africans to a COVID-19 risk tool, to help understand your personal risk for COVID-19 plus, where needed, to immediately schedule virtual healthcare professional consultations and get advice”.

They note that globally, telemedicine has proved invaluable in the management of this disease, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating for digital healthcare tools and virtual consults to be the first step and primary means of healthcare support during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID-19 risk assessment and virtual healthcare tools can help to identify people who need health professional engagement and a potential referral for testing or to a hospital.

This reduces overcrowding at clinics and doctors’ rooms where there is greater risk of the virus spreading, and also protects healthcare professionals from potential repeated exposure to COVID-19, Vodacom and Discovery say.

They point out the online healthcare platform makes it possible for South Africans to access a healthcare professional without them having to travel to a healthcare facility.

“It is simple, free to use and available on any Web or mobile phone, facilitating a full consultation with a doctor either through video or audio calls or by text. The service can be accessed by visiting either the Discovery or Vodacom Web sites. Vodacom customers can get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD by dialling *111#.”

Applying global learnings

Vodacom and Discovery say they are focused on applying global learnings around effectively managing the COVID-19 pandemic through digital healthcare tools, including virtual care.

Through this partnership, Discovery’s existing DrConnect platform, which was previously available only to Discovery clients, is now accessible to all South Africans.

Together, Vodacom and Discovery have also jointly created a fund to pay doctors for approximately 100 000 consultations, making them free to any South African.

Vodacom group chief executive officer Shameel Joosub comments: “As South Africa unites to contain the spread of COVID-19, we remain committed to supporting society and our government during this unprecedented time.

“Our partnership with Discovery can go a long way in alleviating any increased pressure on healthcare practitioners while at the same time empowering citizens by connecting them to doctors. As a leading technology company, we are optimistic about the capabilities of digital connectivity to transform the lives of our communities. Through the online doctor consultation platform, anyone looking for COVID-19-related information will be connected to a network of doctors who will be readily available to answer their questions.”

Adrian Gore, chief executive at Discovery Group, says: “We are proud to be partnering with Vodacom on this important and powerful initiative – bringing free online doctor consultations to all South Africans who need it for COVID-19.

“Discovery has been built on a very simple but powerful core purpose: making people healthier. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that purpose is very simple – we need to keep South Africans out of harm’s way. We are very hopeful that this initiative will make a huge impact on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa – for the good of all our citizens.”

The companies point out that as SA continues to closely monitor the incidence of COVID-19, this virtual healthcare platform will work alongside other initiatives to give all South Africans free access to reliable information, risk screening and, when necessary, free online medical consultations.

The online healthcare platform is dedicated to COVID-19-specific screening and consultations. All doctors are invited to download the Discovery HealthID and DrConnect apps from relevant app stores to join the virtual healthcare platform. Doctors will receive guidance on how to consult and how to receive payment from the dedicated fund Discovery and Vodacom have set up for these specific consultations.

Seven easy steps

There are seven easy steps to use an online doctor consultation:

1.Start the process by visiting Discovery’s COVID-19 information hub or Vodacom’s Web site. Members of Discovery Health Medical Scheme can access the service through the Discovery app. Vodacom customers can get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD by dialling *111#.

2.Utilise the COVID-19 self-screening risk assessment tool, by answering a few easy questions.

3.If you are confirmed as high risk of having COVID-19, a short registration and consent process on the DrConnect app will follow.

4.Book a virtual consultation with a doctor who is available to assess the need for COVID-19 testing.

5.If the doctor recommends testing, a photo of the completed pathology form will be sent to you by SMS, WhatsApp or e-mail. The same process will apply to scripts for medicine.

6.Testing and collecting of medicine will be facilitated by the relevant essential healthcare service providers that you have to visit.

7.Doctors will receive test results electronically and can then advise if you should schedule follow-up appointments to discuss results and next steps.

Innovative health solutions

Mariam Cassim, chief executive officer of Vodacom Financial Services, adds: “It’s always been part of the Vodacom Financial Services’ strategy to deliver innovative health solutions to our customers and the current COVID-19 crisis has called for us to move quicker than we had anticipated.

“Partnering with Discovery on this initiative is a great example of how two large corporates can use their core capabilities to make a real difference in the lives of all South Africans during this time. Vodacom’s extensive telco network will bring Discovery’s network of doctors to mobile devices all over the country.”

Discovery Health chief executive officer Dr Ryan Noach explains that, “Importantly, this initiative means we’re able to protect doctors from continued exposure to COVID-19 and hopefully make their jobs much safer as they deliver this invaluable care.” 

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