GIST-A-DOCTOR: Helping Nigerians Access Doctors And Medical Advice On-The-Go

Mobile phone is changing how people access health information in Nigeria. Tech savvy entrepreneurs and organizations are developing different applications and services to improve the digital lifestyle of Nigerians while impacting their health.

GIST-A-DOCTOR, a new mobile health service operated by Nigeria-based Adnol Multimedia Limited, seeks to explore the potential in mobile health while bridging the existing gap of how health messages are communicated and accessed by Nigerians.

The service will improve how Nigerians access medical advice about their health or over the counter prescriptions, says Dr Nkiru Orajiaka, one of the doctors in resident. “It provides an opportunity to discuss with a medical doctor before you make any medical decision.”

Dr Orajiaka says GIST-A-DOCTOR offers a wide range of services—from First-aid to counseling to medical referral. A user sends SMS to complain about persistent headache. The doctor on duty gists with him to find the root cause. Often times, it is discovered that the patient is either not getting adequate sleep or rest.  She says some people also call to find out if their prescription is correct. Users are also encouraged to go to a physical hospital to get treatment.

“There is a way you communicate with people so that they know they really need to see a doctor. They actually come back to ask if we can help them locate a doctor. So we do that to that extent,” said Dr Orajiaka.

“We don’t just ask them to go and see a doctor and leave them hanging. We also ask them, where are you located? We have had a few people referred and they come back to tell us, ‘oh we have seen a doctor, this is what we got.’ So it is really a back and forth gist,” she added.

Nigeria is currently ranked as one of Africa’s largest mobile market with over 120 million subscribers in the country. GIST-A-DOCTOR, which has about 8,000 subscribers, hopes to tap into the growing market.

Chinyere Ameh is an ardent user of mobile phone. But for her, the device serves more than just sending and receiving calls or SMS. She also uses it to communicate with a team of health practitioners through GIST-A-DOCTOR.

When Ameh fell ill a few months ago, she sent an SMS to GIST-A-DOCTOR, explaining the symptoms of her health condition. The doctor on duty responded promptly. After an initial diagnosis, she was advised her to see a medical doctor at her local health clinic. Ameh said when she got to the hospital, the nurses diagnosed the same thing the team at GIST-A-DOCTOR had mentioned to her.

Since that experience, Ameh has embraced the platform. She now uses it to inquire about health issues and also seek for advice on drug prescriptions.

The name GIST-A-DOCTOR was coined to help users understand that they are actually gisting with qualified doctors.  Dr Orajiaka says often times Nigerians are scared to discuss certain health issues physically with their doctors due to cultural barriers or judgmental attitude of some practitioners. So the platform offers the opportunity for them to gist anonymously like it is a regular everyday conversation, she said.

But not everyone is embracing the platform yet. Ameh recounts how her friend had thought it to be con to gist with doctors you cannot see. But a traumatic experience soon changed her opinion.

“One of my friends who was two months pregnant went to hospital to complain about headache,” Ameh recounts. But instead of the nurses to first diagnose the illness, she was given a pack of drugs. Ameh said after her friend took the drugs, she lost her pregnancy. This would not have happened if her friend had initiated a conversation with “Gist a Doctor,” Ameh said. “The time I was telling her about it, she thought I was joking.”

During our interview, Ameh pointed out that she was just returning from the hospital where she had a medical check-up. But before taking any treatment at the hospital, Ameh usually checks in with “Gist a doctor” to confirm the validity of her prescriptions. “I trust them well. They don’t even waste time. They send messages promptly. Those people are helpful.” She said.

The service is not free. “The network charge for every message that comes in. we also have professional doctors we have to pay.” Said Dr Orajiaka. The monthly service cost hundred naira (N100). “Once you subscribe, each conversation is just N20,” the doctor explained.

Ameh said she is comfortable spending twenty naira (N20) to access information that will improve her health.

Another user, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that he first learned about Gist-a-doctor when he got an SMS health tip on his mobile phone. He said that when he sent a text message to the number, he got an instant response to his enquiry.

“Their services are excellent. They gave me everything in needed.” He said.

GIST-A-DOCTOR is currently available on MTN and Etisalat network. To subscribe, users text 35242 (MTN) or 53667 (Etisalat).

Jennifer Ehidiamen is a tech-savvy journalist based in Lagos. She reports on global health and development issues in Africa for Voice of America (VOA News). Jennifer also serves as a photojournalist and communications consultant. A 2013 Innovative Young Journalist Award recipient, 2013 New Media fellow for International Reporting Project, 2010 LEAP Africa award recipient and a 2009 Atlas Service Corps Fellow, Jennifer recently founded the Rural Reports project [http://www.ruralreporters.com], a news portal dedicated to grassroots citizen-reporting. She serves as an Advisory Council member for Washington DC-based One World Youth Project (OWYP). She has published three books: "In Days to Come" (2004), "Preserve my Saltiness" (2011) and "Half A Loaf And A Bakery" (2013). Jennifer graduated from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism with a degree in Mass Communication. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @Disgeneration