Bridging the healthcare gap
For Swam Saung Oo and his colleagues, improving the nation’s health care is the key to serving the rapidly growing nation.
And to best serve that aim, Trust Oo has implemented its “7887 Healthcare Call Center” after going through a lengthy pilot stage and a one-year research programme in the UK by the founder.
According to the doctor, users, who are mainly rural with limited access to adequate healthcare units as well as transportation and financial constraints, will have easy access to ‘’well-trained medical doctors, virtually anywhere and anytime”, which will save time, energy and costs for the individual and the nation.
A broad scope of services at your finger tips
The call center, alongside web and social media platforms (www.healthcare.com.mm) and a Facebook page, acts as the frontline, triage system alongside a plethora of services.
“Treating the patient is not just prescribing medicines. We want to promote their ability to take care of themselves better. And by advancing their health knowledge, we believe that they will be able to prevent themselves from certain diseases.
“Information in Myanmar is limited on the internet and not transparent at all. You aren’t able to find updated information in the Burmese language unless you’re asking your friends, family or colleagues. This is vital information that should be updated in real time,” said Swam Saung Oo.
He says that professional, certified doctors answer the calls 24-hours a day with strict adherence to protocol and the call center is equipped to provide the latest health information and effective medical advice to a diverse customer base, ensuring confidentiality and accuracy.
In addition to health education and symptom-based interactive consultation, the services cover culturally sensitive issues such as mental and reproductive health, maternal and child health, and triage, which assess severity and the referral of appropriate hospitals and clinics along with the health directory.
“Induced abortions remain one of the top killers. There is not the right sex education because it is deemed culturally inappropriate. As a consequence, teenagers and young adults are not equipped with the right knowledge when it comes to sex. Contraceptives and family planning are really important,” said the medic.
Convenience and ease of access to information not only helps those in remote, rural areas but also for those in Yangon where congestion can hinder access to health care.
For now, Swam Saung Oo said that 7887 Hotline is currently available for all mobile subscribers of Myanma Post and Telecommunications (MPT) despite his aim of making 7887 available for all mobile phone users in Myanmar in the near future.
Efficiency is the remedy for overwhelming demand
Swam Saung Oo points out that M-health initiatives can ease the burden caused by the high ratio between medical professionals and patients.
“A midwife is serving close to nearly 6,000 people and in rural areas; it means that those 6,000 people are spread across maybe five or six villages.
“Yangon’s traffic means a person might take a long time getting to a specialist and then face a long queue. And after that, the face-to-face time is limited. Medics have to see hundreds of patient every day, meaning that they cannot give enough consultation time to each patient,” said Swam Saung Oo.
The national health budgets have increased and the new National Health Plan until 2021 aims to ensure universal health coverage.
The NHP said it would promote more “integrated training, joint supportive supervision, better aligned referral mechanisms and a more streamlined health information system”.
According to Swam Saung Oo, Trust Oo’s 7887 service fits the aim.
“Over the phone, we can also take the history and triage the patient with detailed instructions. M-health is precisely what this country needs.
“In the past, our country used to practise cost-community sharing and now it has free health care. In order to sustain this kind of system as a developing nation, we have to have systematic triage to efficiently meet the citizens’ higher demand for healthcare. Accident and emergency departments in public hospitals have to treat enormous amount of people every day and, as a result, there are mix-ups between those that need immediate care and those that don’t, resulting in having to use resources unnecessarily.”
Sustainable growth through partners is key
Trust Oo, primarily being a low-profit social enterprise, requires the involvement of key players such as policymakers, both public and private investment and support from NGOs.
“As a public-private partnership, we are partnering with a variety of third parties. There is the government: the Ministry of Health and Sports has already approved our M-health project.
“There are also the Ministry of Transport and Communications and MPT, Telenor and Ooredoo. We have been closely cooperating with the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association. We have also handled a social media project related to family planning for Population Services International. We have also received reproductive health training from Marie Stopes International.”
Swam Saung Oo said he is looking for more partners that share a similar vision to sustain this M-health project.
“We are currently establishing a network with clinics and hospitals. We have approached physical healthcare units like NGOs, home care, private hospitals, GPs and specialist clinics, blood donation groups, ambulance services or more. There are a variety of services we can connect in the industry which means only a win-win situation for those involved.
“It all depends on them to cooperate with us but the idea is that M-health is never meant to replace but only complement conventional healthcare delivery. Our product is information, not doing blood tests or prescribing antibiotics over the phone because it is not possible and also highly unethical.”
A long journey ahead
Swam Saung Oo admits it will be a long journey before his aim can be realised.
He says the staff continually push to increase awareness of their service while thriving to cope with hundreds of calls most days.
The costs of providing an up-to-date service are considerable, he admits.
But Swam Saung Oo do not seem daunted.
“We are preparing to develop mobile apps so that we can be prepared for disruptive innovation.”
Its app, “My Healthcare”, is funded by USAID and FHI 360.
“We look forward to receiving support from other significant stakeholders because we need to be collaborative for M-health project to be successful. I would like to encourage the audience to be aware of the availability of our services, share this news within your social network and help promote to increase health knowledge for society at large. It will save costs on an individual level: your family, friends and colleagues – to a national level,” said Swam Saung Oo.