TeleDoctor is not personal enough… and how can telenor make it work

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telenor_teledoc_sm.jpgThe other day, an office colleague got sick. A severe case of food poisoning left the poor guy in a very weakened state. He was asking around for what medicines should one take for curing his symptoms when I remembered telenor’s new service. Thinking this would be a good time to test out just how well the service operates, I suggested he call it up and ask. My reasoning was, their advice on medicine’s would at least be better than what any one us could offer. My colleague also had a telenor number with quite a bit of balance as well, so that wasn’t an issue.

telenor_teledoc_sm2.jpgI wasn’t surprised when i heard the first traces of reluctance in his voice. Even though he was feeling very sick, and asking everyone not even remotely qualified in medicine for help, the very thought of calling up an unknown doctor wasn’t even acceptable. He started making excuses like, how would they know what i’m going through, they wont be able to test me and the most stressed upon reason, they wont know which medicines suit me.

All of his objections made sense, and so i let the matter drop. After another half hour of discomfort though, he got up and asked a fellow office worker to take him to the E.R. at PIMS. After an hour of waiting around in the line, his condition finally got the better of him and he went directly home to sleep it off, without medical supervision.

All of this got me thinking, just why doesn’t a service, which sounds helpful, is backed by a team of registered and experienced medical professional seem to appeal to the masses. Here’s my take on it…

The Problem with TeleDoctor

The teledoctor service doesn’t have a human face attached to it, and its not personal enough for people to even want to consider it. From the reactions of my colleague as well as a few others i’ve seen, its still considered to be largely staffed by amateurs posing as doctors, and that since its a telenor service, then making money is more important than good service. The e-Health initiative is almost hidden behind the big persona (not the postpaid variety though) of telenor as far as their ads and other promotions go.

The fact that people would say that they will not take advice from a doctor who doesn’t know their history or conditions, who cannot do any tests on them, or one who is not physically present will then proceed to go to an unknown doctor in an ER, or take advice over the phone from friends, or ask for medical advice from colleagues and other non-qualified people tells me that teledoctor cannot be trusted because its just not credible or personal enough.

For Telenor:

How should you go about fixing it? Well, my take is, create awareness and trust among the people you are trying to reach. And that will *not* happen by taking out full page ads in the national dailies. You need to find a way to become a part of the lives of the immediate people you are trying to reach. Find out where most of your demographics are and target them specifically. (Sounds MBA’ish no?).

Basically what i’m trying to say is, reach out to ‘current’ patients! People who need this service now! And where else can you find a large number of current patients but ER rooms at major govt. hospitals! Setup stalls in these hospitals giving an alternative to people waiting in line to be seen by a doctor by using the teledoctor service. Tell them that they can get either a initial diagnosis (which they can compare with what their physical doctor says) or get a second opinion afterwards (and compare again) to get a better indication of whether they’ve been checked out thoroughly. If the diagnosis is similar, you’ve built up a point of trust, if the diagnosis is not.. then let them go for a third opinion. Once you build up enough of these points of trust, you’ll see the service being picked up, since people love to talk about how good ‘their’ doctor or ‘their’ hospital is. I’m not really sure why, but its a fact.. anyone who has been cured by the advice of one doctor will keep on advocating them for life. Become ‘their’ medical advice service and you’ll see the numbers going up.

In short, reach out to patients and give them a trial of your service at no-charge. Dont make them pay for the first time they use it, instead make it easier for them to overcome this barrier by allowing them to totally disregard what the teledoc’s say, in favor of their practitioner. When both diagnosis are similar (or the e-health doctor’s is right) people will have a smaller resistance the next time a trip to the ER is warranted, in calling up teledoctor. And this time, they’ll actually pay for it. (P.S for readers who will debate this, this solution is not for physical issues such as cuts and bruises or fractures. Yes, i understand that.)

Oh, and one more thing… if you must advertise this service, keep telenor in the background and the e-health initiative in the spotlight! Remember, telenor is corporate, hence bad… e-health is an initiative, hence good. You want good to be associated with the good, not the bad right?

Facebook comments:


  • Mansoor actually I dont know how much of that is possible.

    For one thing I dont even think urban city dwellers who have options and know what personal service means is the right demographic. It doesnt make business sense to target them anyway.

    Its the people in remote areas with very limited access to qualified doctors – to them, this can be step-up.

    The real question that we should be exploring is – how can any service limited by voice on telephones get more personalized?

  • Plus its really not fair to tell a company that they should be in the background because they’re bad :)

    The question to talk about is how can corporate images become better among consumers – thats certainly where people from those companies would want to get involved

  • osama: lol on calling a company bad :p its not me dude, its what the world views it as. Case in point see this.

    The one thing i cannot understand tough (and it may be naivety on my part) is why targeting urban population is not on the cards?

    We’re assuming (it seems) that urban city dwellers get adequate medical facilities and coverage, and that all govt. hospitals are efficient and effective…

    You see the problem with the above argument?

    To give another analogy, can you explain to a blind person what the color red looks like?

    How can you tell to someone who hasn’t had access to state-of-the-art, or even adequate medical facility what professional medical service is and what benefits should they be getting out of it? That’s the problem, IMO, with rural population.

    On the other hand, many people living in urban areas, specially lower income groups who visit govt. hospitals and stand in line, have friends and relatives in the rural areas they go visit often (people from punjab might relate to this more) who, if exposed to the benefits of this service, will take it back to their villages and spread the word.

    That’s how i believe even cellphone usage increased in the rural areas. you tell them about the conveniences through WOM and then target your services to them, otherwise, its just like explaining red to a blind person..

    but then, that’s my POV.

  • People can get info from this service… instead of taking it from other layman office employees.

    I don’t agree that patient can’t be helped out over a phone call. He can tell all his symptoms and the doctor can give him medicine advice.

    I have one interesting idea after reading this article that internet marketers can have virtual doctors. The doctor gives advices over web cam and get money on paypal or via other payment gateways. May be that’s not a sound idea but it can be modified to some real good one.

    Cheers! :)

  • I do not wish to be the official spokesperson for Telenor Pakistan. In my opinion, Telenor Pakistan is the least interested in the relative success of this service. Telenor Pakistan does not spend too much money on it. The advertisement campaigns are already bought and they can be filled with any other service or product.

    The people behind the e-health service have got it all invested and there business model required a telecom partner for distribution. Enter Telenor Pakistan, a telecom on the rise and offering a load of VAS and data services.

    Mansoor’s proposition is well done, but I am afraid this period in Pakistani Telecoms is about testing whatever is working without a lot of investment in VAS and data. Telecoms are pretty much happy to offer any service that works and the vendor is willing to share 70%.

  • Corona: That is infact, a very good way for a doctor to setup an online clinic!!

    way to go!!

    We’ve all seen the benefits of webcam to the ‘first adopters of internet and broadcasting technologies’, it can open up a world of opportunities. Infact, it can even be extended to an online version of a hospital…?

    definitely something someone should be thinking about.

  • Suicide hotline anyone? :p

  • I am currently involved in a project that caters a healthcare application to patients via their mobile device (they already have J2ME software working and now focus is on iPhone)

    This application, although designed for American/European audience, is very useful for remote locations. I can’t go into the business model details (NDA) but I can tell that this service even without a “human” face attached to it directly is getting good response from different healthcare officials (doctors, nurses, patients etc..) so I think given enough time i hope this service from telenor will get better.

    PS: It is a HOT market to get into though.. healthcare via mobile devices .. this WILL get common sooner or later..

  • I feel that it is another half hearted service done by telenor just to add a feather in their VASs.

  • Lets be a bit more patient (no pun intended :-))
    Ofcourse there will be issues, but i think the benefits outweigh the shortcomings. First of all, if this service hits the rural areas, it will take it up by storm, those people arent choosy about their docs as we urban dwellers are…

  • @mansoor: Thank you for idea appreciation. I am a newbie (fresh grad.) to this tech industry.

    I would love to have resources where i can execute ideas like that. For now i can express only.

    What G&W can recommend me, how should i execute? Frankly speaking, I don’t have resources 😛

  • I have a question: Why do you go to a specific doctor? I mean why Dr. X , why not Dr. Y? Because you think he has better creditability. So, does e-Health have any creditability? Thats why your colleague was reluctant to call them.

    So, how can they make creditability? … Hmm.. IMHO … by putting few good names on their panel :)

  • TeleDoctor is a CSR product and not a commercial venture. The facility is manned with qualified doctors only and there is no amateur answering calls. The service is supported by a proper EMR (Electronic Medical Record) and follows internationally recognized medical protocols. Just imagine about our 65% plus rural population. They are absolutely without any quality healthcare available to them. This service fills that vacuum and provides basic advice to the people in need of medical assistance. Alhumdulillah Lives are saved to this service and Allah’s will.

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