Advice Column, Bonitas, Health, Parenting

Virtual medical consultations now available 24/7

  • Bonitas
  • Category Advice Column, Bonitas, Health, Parenting

Bonitas Medical Fund announces that its free* virtual medical consultations, available to all South Africans, not just members, are now available 24/7 thanks to a partnership with ER24.

Staying healthy remains a priority for South Africans especially during the COVID-19 lockdown.  However it can be a challenge to seek medical help when the Government is asking us to stay home, wear masks, wash our hands frequently and practice social distancing. The solution lies in virtual care.

Early in April, Bonitas Medical Fund launched its Virtual Care offering it to South Africans, at no cost, during the COVID-19 crisis. These virtual medical consultations, with GPs and other physicians, have now been extended to have a ‘Dr on call’ 24/7.

‘We know that illness doesn’t keep office hours,’ says Lee Callakoppen, Principal Officer. ‘Which is why we joined forces with ER24 and are now able to extend the availability of free* consultations round the clock.  This will offer peace of mind to anyone who is feeling ill, needs some reassurance about symptoms they are experiencing or needs a prescription. It can all be done virtually, by appointment.

‘The success of our Babyline and ParentingLine, also available 24/7, is one of the reasons we felt the virtual care hours needed extended. The partnership with ER24 means that virtual consultations made after 8pm on weekdays and on weekends will be handled by their team of doctors.’

To access this facility you simply download the Bonitas Virtual Care App from the Google Play Store or iStore, then register and book an online consultation with a doctor from the extensive network. The doctor will engage with you in a virtual video consultation on any medical issue, not just around the COVID-19 virus and advise you on the most clinically appropriate steps for further care. Through a partnership with Pharmacy Direct, any chronic medication required will be delivered to your door. 

‘In the first three weeks virtual care launched, 19 000 people download the app and more than 1 000 made use of the virtual consultations,’ says Callakoppen. ‘Of these over 22% were non-members.’

To supplement the Virtual Care, Bonitas has launched a new WhatsApp solution for members. This provides an additional self-help platform capability to access a host of information, get in touch with call centres and has a specific COVID-19 option.

Members access the facility by simply typing ‘hi’ into the WA number and are then given a range of options to choose from.  Your membership number – followed by a One Time Pin (OTP) – provides access to personal information such as statements, claims, membership cards and tax certificates. There is also a live chat functionality to put you in touch with an agent.

The COVID-19 option provides information on everything from symptoms through to treatment, recovery, transmission, costs covered by your medical aid, frequently asked questions, updated statistics on active cases, recoveries and death and a self-screening test.

‘The global pandemic has made people more willing to engage with tech and use alternative forms of communication,’ says Callakoppen.  ‘WA has become a quick and easy communication tool and it makes sense of us to use this facility to help members in keeping on top of their medical aid and health issues.  The added option of information on the coronavirus also means you can check where  you have any of the symptoms  and access clinically checked, verified and accurate information about the virus.’

To further assist members during this pandemic, Bonitas has set up a special COVID-19 Rapid Response Unit (RRU) for members with coronavirus symptoms or who have tested positive.  The RRU Call Centre went live on April 6 aimed at:

  • Educating members on how to prevent and contain the spread of the disease
  • Providing members with symptom monitoring tools
  • Assisting members to navigate their available benefits
  • Supporting members who are ‘at risk’ of developing complications 
  • Reminding members of the importance of taking their chronic medicines where appropriate 
  • Supporting COVID-19 positive members providing guidance on quarantine rules, advice for their caregivers if appropriate and assistance with preparation for hospital admission if required
  • Assisting members by relieving the psychological burden of the result and ensuring that claims are paid correctly
  • Supporting positive members who have been discharged from hospital by educating them on how to reintegrate into society and how to avoid readmission
  • Providing members with updated educational materials and tools

The RRU interactions are supported by data analytics and policy review to ensure that up-to-date information is shared with members in this rapidly changing environment. Current interventions include outbound and inbound engagements via telephone.  Digital platforms are being explored to expand targeted member engagement and communication effectiveness.

‘COVID-19 has certainly turned the world, as we know it, upside side and as the medical aid for all South Africans, we are doing our best to help educate about the virus to ensure everyone stays as healthy as possible.  Part of the education awareness has seen us sponsor isiXhosa videos, in association with a theatre company, who are taking these to a wide audience around the country.’ 

Callakoppen says, ‘We recognise the plight of all South Africans during this time and want to reassure all our members that we continue to act with their best interests at heart.’

* Consultations are free for a limited period during the COVID-19 lockdown

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