The Telenor Teledoctor service has certainly sparked a lot of interesting discussion on the web, some of it has some valid points but others are just emotional rants or coming from lack of information. Time to put some balance and analysis on this.
For starters, the Teledoctor service is a value-added service created and managed by E-Health, whose CEO is Dr. Zakiuddin Ahmed. All Telenor is doing is providing their pipes… this is much like Telenor Picshare, which is a service by PixSense over Telenor’s pipes.
Their services’ core market is people out on the edge – in rural communities – who have limited access even to basic healthcare / preventive medicine knowledge or support. I dont think anyone really expects this service to help in the diagnosis of complex diseases anyway, so the most we can expect these doctors to do is either help in cases where they can immediately recommend some off-the-shelf medicine (lets say for high fever etc.) or recommend that the person calling see a specialists for tests.
Therein lies the problem though – because the people out on the fringe need to also have access to those medicines or specialists to be able to see TeleDoctor as a valid first step.
But the service aside, it is interesting to see why the service has sparked such emotional discussion on the topic. My guess is it all started because of the hyperbole-ridden way in which Telenor chose to describe the service (see below). Consumers / Communities / Bloggers hate hyperbole, because they prefer a person-to-person conversation:
Telenor TeleDoctor will revolutionize the medical industry by eliminating any doctor patient barriers that might exist due to language, lack of education, lack of mobility, etc.
"Revolutionize the medical industry" Hah, yea right. Lets see what discussion sparked on this.
After Mansoor’s original post, a lot of questions were raised about whether or not a pilot was run before announcing the service, and someone from Marketing-360 pointed out that:
For your information Grameen Phone, a Telenor subsidiary & Bangladesh’s
largest mobile network operator conceived and launched this service about
2.5 years back. This was initially launched as a testing ground and based on
the positive response they received from the masses, it was launched
nationwide. Interestingly, GSM Association last year awarded ‘most
innovative idea in social services’ category to GP for successfully
executing this idea. Telenor Pakistan just replicated the idea in Pakistan.
I really really dont think that is the case, particularly because this service is created by a third-party vendor. This is just a service which is very very easy to envision over the Telecom Network – heck even I had though up this service 3 years ago (along with an MMS tie in for somewhat better diagnosis)! It doesnt mean that Telenor got inspired by me on this.
The Marketing-360 group members had a number of other interesting opinions about the service as well.
Some were overjoyed by the service and digested the hyperbole:
Very rightfully put by Ayesha that this service has revolutionized the
medical industry. It is by far the most useful service any of the telecom
company’s has EVER come with. I cant help but say this that this service
will be a huge hit in the rural areas. They are the ones who really need
this service; there will be no more borrowing money from the Chaudry’s which
takes their whole life to pay back. It is no doubt the best service.
Others pointed out how this service can hurt Telenor’s brand:
Wow!! Two posts on the topic and nobody has noticed that the service and the
company could not think of the fact that the medical advice being passed on
will definitely reflect on the company image.
calling the service from say Sukkur, to get advice by defining the problem.
over the phone without physical examination (i.e. what docs say is a must).
Due to whatever problems inherent in the communication medium there is a
high chance of error in diagnostics which will ultimately and most
definitely reflect on the company and will most probably make bad press and
I hope this something duly considered by the team putting this service
This point was also highlighted by a commenter on the TelecomPK blog:
I think Telenor has gone a bit too much on marketing of this service. Brand image should be kept away from things which people usually don’t associate very good memories with. The service contains a strong appeal that the whole brand could be wrapped into it. [….]
My take on this is that if their service primarily targets rural markets then I’m nor sure if their marketing and promotion is also designed to get the message out across to them. That is, if the channels for marketing used dont even touch their target audience then why are they promoting it on those channels? If they are promoting something just to spin a story around VAS activity then I agree with the comments above that its a risk.
Another important perspective came in from a legal perspective. From the Marketing-360 Group again:
Furthermore, who’ll regulate such a service…? What are the chances of
being given wrong medical advice that could prove to be fatal? I’m just
asking this because it is well-known that wrong advice can be given (almost
always unintentionally) by doctors even when they see their patients
personally. I don’t mean to be a pessimist *AT ALL*, but such legal and
technical issues need to be taken care of with concrete steps, which should
be widely communicated, before serious injury is caused to someone.
Apparently this is a valid issue, because according to Babar’s post, "…Telenor legal department had to work late night to write the disclaimers (below)…". The new disclaimers from Telenor to handle these concerns are:
- Telenor neither gives secondary medical advice directly nor engages in the practice of medicine.
- In all cases Telenor is not accountable for the malpractices, genuineness or authenticity of the advice/information given through this service or for the credentials of the medical experts giving the information/advice
- Telenor shall not be liable for any loss or damage caused to any subscriber or any other party as a result thereof.
- This service is designed for the subscribers solely for the purpose of providing easy access to doctors in order to obtain secondary medical advice if and when possible.
In other words, the liability lies with E-Health who is managing the service / doctors etc.
Another surprising perspective has been how many people expect this service to be free, claiming that Rs.8 / min is a ripoff. This point was made by Ahsan, and apparently even people at Telenor have been getting calls about this.
This, I have to say, is completely invalid – why does everyone expect social-focused services to be free or always be an act of charity? This isnt really meant to be a charitable service – its a service where the teleco is providing an alternate communication channel, the third-party vendor that is providing an alternative operational model for providing medical guidance, and I dont see why this service should have a price point associated with it. Its a service… you have to pay for being able to use it.
In fact, from Mansoor’s original post, the charges are actually well justified.
All in all, I think Telenor could have avoided this by having much more clearer succinct information with details of the model, the doctors, the operating vendor; clarity in communications and promotion (please avoid hyperbole) and carefully considering potential legal considerations beforehand.
If for nothing else, these emotional reactions erupt when people feel that the company hasn’t even thought-through their point of view (i.e., is engaged in "pushing") – when will MNC’s learn how to engage with their customer base?