Vodafone India has launched a new health focused mobile web service, Ask a Doctor – Health@5, which enables its subscribers to ask health related questions, which are answered by medical experts. Vodafone has tied up with Medisurge Technologies promoted, TopDoctorsOnline.com to source content and for medical experts.

Enabling the Service: Users can activate the service by sending an SMS HC5 to 111 or 144 from their Vodafone number and ask their queries. Vodafone said that users can ask unlimited queries for Rs 5/day along with regular browsing charges, although, do note that the service is currently available on an auto-renewal basis. Users can unsubscribe from the service by sending an SMS- CAN <space> HC5 to 111 or 144.

Features: According to the company, users can ask health related queries and browse through other questions posted by Vodafone users on this service. A panel of medical professionals will apparently answer the question within 24 hours and these questions will also be archived under ‘My Questions’ section for future reference. Further, this service will also allow users to browse through information on general remedies, latest health updates, diet and fitness information, disease management, health myths and trivia.

The portal currently offers information in five different sections – Everyday health section which has information on diseases, general remedies, health related myths, Did You Know section which provides health related facts and trivia, Medical Diaries section which provides medical case studies as well as medical case experiences from patients, Home Remedies section which provides home remedies for basic health issues, and Diet & Fitness Management section which provides information related to daily exercising, nutrition, diet, wellness and fitness to help users manage a healthy lifestyle.

Our Take: We tried accessing the service on Vodafone network on an Android phone. After sending the activation SMS, Vodafone responded to it by providing a link to a WAP portal m.hewefi.com. We were able to access the portal after initial hiccups which included a subscription error on Vodafone’s part. We found that the portal homepage featured a tabbed interface and was touch friendly with large buttons for links and listings.

While the first tab provided a large text box for users to send their queries, followed by recent questions asked by other users, and various news sections offering excerpts on five different topics as mentioned earlier, the second tab allowed users to access their previous questions, and text links to each of the five topics as mentioned above.

One thing worth noting is that the mobile portal redirects to TopDoctorsOnline.com when accessed on a desktop. According to the company website, TopDoctorsOnline.com offers live chat with the Indian doctors as well as provides health and medical information.

It’s interesting to note that Vodafone has introduced a paid mobile web service, when it could have launched an SMS/IVR service. Perhaps, it’s targeting a different user base. We wonder how many people will actually subscribe to it since a lot of health related info is available free from portals like webMD, emedicinehealth and other sites. Also, we do feel that medical information should always be validated by qualified professionals.  Since Vodafone has tied-up with a specialized service provider, it addresses our concern. VAS provider Handygo offers a similar service, Wellness World, offering detailed information on various health related issues such as heart care, women’s health, diet & nutrition, adolescent issues and pain management, on Uninor via SMS and IVR. Aircel and Apollo Hospitals also offer mobile health services.

Anupam Saxena also contributed to this post