March 2009

Doctor@your Fingertips : Nilakshi Barooah

Imagine you are in the midst of a heart attack� and require immediate medical attention to survive! Your chances of survival will be far greater if you happen to be in Kozhikode, Kerala, thanks to Dr. SMS for its prompt service available at your fingertips. Dr. SMS is not a doctor emerging out of your mobile phone, but an SMS service which will help you reach the nearest hospital in town. Dr. SMS is an innovative way of providing healthcare information through an SMS. This service was launched early in 2008 in Kozhikode city of the South Indian state of Kerala. An excellent example of Government to Citizen services in the health sphere, the magic number -9446460600- provides information on the availability of hospitals, medical centres, facilities, and doctors in the designated area that the sender wants to know.


Speaking to eGov Dr. Ajay Kumar, Secretary, Information Technology, Government of Kerala said, “This information-based service helps people contact the hospital concerned through their mobile phone as soon as an emergency arises.” All you need to do is to text the pin code of the locality about which you need the information and you will receive the information promptly via an SMS. Bridging the digital divide has been the prime moto of all Information and Communication Technology (ICT) initiatives and projects. With India adding millions of mobile subscriptions every month and heading towards meeting the 500 million mark by 2010, mobile device is all set to become the all-in-one gadget. Right from paying electricity bills to booking bus and railway tickets, mobile phones hold the ability for further value additions as and when required. Today, it is not rare to see a rickshaw puller or a daily wager to carry a mobile handset. Tapping such wide popularity of the mobile device, the Dr. SMS project is definitely a great move towards providing value-added services on a mobile phone. It also marks an innovative shift towards m-Governance.

Dr. SMS @ Kozhikode

Currently, Dr. SMS service is available in Kozhikode (formerly known as Calicut), which is the third largest city in Kerala with a population of approximately 20 lac. Kozhikode is the ‘chosen one’ for this project because it has the highest rate of mobile penetration in the state. The city has a huge migrant population and also attracts a large number of tourists every year. Dr. Kumar said, “Mobile phone is more affordable to people compared to the Internet facility � this fact again ensures the reach and success of a project like Dr SMS among the public, be it tourists, migrant population or the resident population.” The service acts like a first aid kit for any health emergency for the large number of tourists who are on the move in the town and are not aware of the whereabouts of the place. In the event of an emergency, people can contact the hospital concerned through their mobile phone. This helps the hospital authorities prepare the emergency room as per the requirements as well as to mobilise the resources like specialist doctors and specialised equipment to take care of the emergency. Moreover, the database created for Dr. SMS can also be used for micro-level planning for ensuring an equitable geographic distribution of facilities. Given its novelty, the project has managed to get an average of approximately 200 transactions on a day-to-day basis.

The Government of Kerala has taken a laudable step in creating this value added service for its people. Speaking about the initiative, Dr. Ajay Kumar , Secretary – IT, Govt. of Kerala stated, “Presently, the cost of the SMS sent to the user is being borne by the Government”.


Role of Kerala Government

The Government of Kerala has taken a laudable step in creating this value added service for its people. Speaking about the initiative, Dr. Kumar stated, “Presently, the cost of the SMS sent to the user is being borne by the Government.” Even though there is no tie up with any of the hospitals for this project, the project claims a credible and a sound database on hospitals and emergency health services, which was based on a large data from the Health Infrastructure Survey conducted by the National Commission on Macro economics and Health (NCMH), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. This survey extensively uses data on all medical facilities across all the districts of the state. Dr. Kumar added, “The validity of the data was ensured during the preparation of the database.”

Partnering with BSNL

Dr. SMS is a success story in Kerala and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has played a significant role in it. The services provided for Dr. SMS at affordable and cost effective rates has indeed made the services popular among the masses. At present, the customer who uses the service is charged an amount of 40 paise per SMS. The Government of Kerala has taken the onus of taking care of the cost of the return-SMS delivered to the users.

In the Pipeline

With the success of the Dr. SMS project in Kozhikode, there are plans for replicating the model in all other cities of the state. Speaking about such plans, Dr. Kumar further reiterated that, “The pilot project was implemented in Kozhikode and is easily accessible to more than 20 lac people residing in the district. The services of Dr SMS will be available to the residents of Kannur, Kasargode and Thrissur within a few months.”

Expanding the scope of the project there are also plans for making it an umbrella service through various media of information distribution delivery outlets such as portals and the integrating of spatial data and GIS apart from the existing SMS service. There are also plans for making provisions to receive the details of the medical services on email or through an SMS. Talking further about the future plans of making the model sustainable, Dr. Kumar added that, “We are also in the process of identifying a SMS aggregator which would help us provide this service on a sustainable basis to subscribers of any mobile service provider’s network.” It is hoped that once the project is rolled out across the state, it will benefit the 3 crore population of Kerala. The state promises the best delivery of such digital technology given its high rate of mobile penetration, which is even higher than that of the national average of India. With such high levels of commitment towards addressing the digital divide, Kerala is not only a front-runner in the e-Governance map of India but also embarking on a path of m-Governance.

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