Jul 19, 2012

Now Indians Can Compare Prices of Branded Drugs on Mobile Phones

Consumer mHealth is here. There has been a spurt of entrepreneurship in this field and some Indian phone/ mobile based start-ups have been launched over the past couple of years. Mainly, they have been services meant to connect healthcare consumers with doctors via phone (like Ask a Doctor from Vodafone, Mediphone by Religare technologies,  Dial UR Doctor  and Mera Doctor). Most of these tools are voice based and sometimes don't even fit the rigid definitions of mHealth. Further, they are all healthcare professional specific and have pointedly ignored patients in any decision making process.

Not that all mHealth projects in India are in the private sector. The government of India has also been active in harnessing the reach of mobile phones in the country with some projects in Public health like in ensuring treatment compliance in DOTS Program and in healthcare reporting at grass roots level. 

On the other hand, use of mhealth tools to connect Indian pharma industry and the consumer has not really taken off. One exception was the very useful  Drug authentiction tool ps-Connect which has been launched by PharmaSecure. based out of Gurgaon.

The latest mHealth project by the government of India looks to strike at the alleged root of costly medical care : the widely variable costs of branded drugs. The Indian government has taken the initiative to use simple messaging services (SMS) to educate the public on drug prices.
Here is how it works: Once the person sends a text message of the prescribed brand of drug to a particular number from his mobile, he will receive two to three options of the same medicine, along with the price differential. Say, a patient is prescribed a popular anti-infective like Augmentin (GlaxoSmithKline). He types in Augmentin and sends the SMS to the designated number. He would get a return SMS, possibly mentioning Moxikind CV (Mankind), which is substantially cheaper. But sources said that all responses would come with a caution: please consult the doctor before popping the alternative (pill).
The proposed mHealth project will definitely be trashed by medical associations who will look at this intrusion by patient in decisions regarding brands as an affront to their expertise. Nevertheless, this irreversible shifting of the power balance in favor of healthcare consumers has been long in the making. Instead of objecting to such tools, we must look at strengthening the quality of the tool. The only practical objection to such a project would be the possibility of lower quality brands being suggested by this tool. The quality of branded drug can be ensured by having stringent quality checks for the inclusion of any brand in the database which will be created. 

The savings potential of this tool is enormous and inability to ensure quality of database cannot be an excuse. We cannot afford to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The service, expected to be launched by the government in August, will be available throughout the country.

PS: If you know of any innovative mHealth projects in India, kindly share the link below in comments.

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