As government started rolling out mass testing for the novel coronavirus in the country on Tuesday, Discovery and Vodacom joined in on the efforts to get people tested on Wednesday, announcing that they will be funding virtual doctor's consultations and facilitating referrals to laboratories where needed.
The two giants said they have jointly created a fund to pay doctors for 100 000 consultations, and any South African can access book these consultations for free. Only consultations related to Covid-19 will be funded, from initial consultations for individuals who are at risk or exhibiting symptoms to follow up consultations for confirmed positive Covid-19 cases, allowing doctors to keep their social distance while still treating their patients.
The virtual doctors' consultations can be in the form of video or texts. The platform will be zero-rated for Vodacom customers, meaning that they can access it without data or airtime while people on other cellphone networks will only pay for data. Vodacom customers who don't have smart phones will soon be able to access the service via USSD by dialling *111#
"Our intention is to give every South African access to a doctor virtually, online, for free," said Discovery Group CEO, Adrian Gore.
"If we ramp through the 100 000 consultations, we'll have to dig where we can get other additional sources of funding. We'll have to see how it plays out," he added.
He said the initiative - which is an extension of Discovery Health's existing DrConnect platform to non-Discovery clients - already had 5 200 doctors signed up before the Wednesday afternoon launch. The companies tried to get a diverse demographic of doctors to ensure people can find someone who speak their own language.
"We are only just rolling it out now. So, we hope the 5 200 doctors on the platform grow. There's a whole process of engaging doctors of how they can sign up, how to use it. From there we hope the number grows quite substantially," said Gore.
How to book this doctor's consultation
First, anyone wanting the consultation would need to do a simple online risk assessment to determine their personal risk on the Discovery website or Vodacom's, which will take you to Discovery's when you click on the 'Covid-19 self test' link. The assessment requires people to indicate whether they have any of the listed seven symptoms. If results show the person's risk is high, a virtual doctor consultation is immediately suggested. A handful of general practitioners are listed as "available now" while next availability is indicated for those not available.
"It's aimed only at Covid-19, very simple questions. It's very accessible. If you are a Discovery member a doctor will access all your medical records. If you are not, it's a very simple registration process with your ID number which we then verify with Home Affairs Department and book the consultation," said Gore.
Taking the Covid-19 test
The doctor can recommend you treat your symptoms but don't need testing, in which case they'll send a photo of scripts for medicine through SMS, WhatsApp or email. The doctor can also book a follow-up appointment. But if testing is recommended right away, they will send you a photo of a completed pathology form, also through SMS, WhatsApp or email. Discovery will then refer you to the essential healthcare service providers you need to visit.
"Referral will take into account what kind of coverage you have. If you don't have medical coverage, they'll refer you to a free public facility. We work with the public sector," said Gore.
He said as the number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise at a rapid pace in South Africa - there were 1 353 positive cases on Tuesday - Discovery was taking proactive steps to reach out to customers with co-morbid conditions that put them in high risk category, advising them to self-isolate. The Discovery Health Medical Schemes has also looked at different scenarios of possible claims levels to make sure it's ready to handle them.