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July 14, 1999


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Dr Beeper: Physicians are consulting a pager service to keep abreast of developments in medicine. M D Riti in Bangalore

Coffee drinking may actually reduce the risk of developing gallstones in men, as surveys of more than 46,000 men found that men with the highest caffeine intakes (more than 5-6 cups per day) have lower manifestation than men with least intakes (less than quarter cup a day). Jama, June 1999.

Email this story to a friend. Giving low doses of androgen therapy (methyltestosterone) to post menopausal women may increase lean body mass while decreasing adipose (fatty) tissue, say researchers. (Annual meeting of Endocrine Society, 1999)

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If you were a busy doctor who doesn't have time to catch up on reading, would you like a medical digest of this kind scrolling on your pager screen?

Hotline Paging, the pager service of Motorola, found that many doctors would.

So they tied up with Biogard, the publishers of the popular pharmaceutical digest CIMS, to provide a pager service called Docline.

Docline delivers on pagers medical news such as new drug launches, ongoing clinical trials and approaching medical conferences and seminars.

"We have a large number of doctors already on our network, using pagers," claims General Manager (Marketing) P G Ponnappa. "Across the country, there are a lot of doctors who are very mobile and either have cell phones or pagers."

Hotline Paging conducted a research to find out the kind of information doctors would appreciate via such a service. Next, it identified Biogard as a credible source of such information because Biogard has a reputation for accuracy and reliability. The two companies, together then worked out a method to classify and relay this kind of information.

Hotline Paging's research had shown that apart from general medical information, doctors would prefer news specific to their specialisations and maybe just one or two other related areas.

"The basic product of the CIMS Docline, which we started as a messaging service to doctor subscribers, consists of two channels of information: the general medicine data goes out thrice a day at specific times like, say, 8 am, 2 pm, 8 pm," says Ponnappa.

Each such message stays until the next one comes on at which time it is overwritten by the new one.

The doctor can then know that if he checks his pager whenever he has a few moments to spare in between these times, he can quickly look at this information.

The specialised information is sent out as personal messages to doctors according to their specialisation and areas of interest, at other times.

These messages are stored in the pager. They don't get overwritten because they are more important. The doctor can also lock this information as he can any other valuable message.

A new pager hardware, the Motorola Scripter 2, which the company insists is one of the latest pieces of technology available on the market, does this. It uses a technology protocol that gives it much larger memory, enabling relay of much longer messages.

Typically, most pagers, about a year and a half ago, would take about 120 to 150 characters. Now, they can handle about 400 characters, which comes to about five to six lines. These are enough to include headlines, a small summary and the source of medical articles on new and interesting subjects.

"A doctor who might have liked to surf the Net, checks out articles, see which ones he would like to read in greater depth, but lacks the time to do so, now gets snippets of information on his pager, which he can follow up on through the sources, at his leisure," says Ponnappa. "He no longer has to hunt for this kind of information. It is delivered right to him. This is just the first of the products we are looking at in this segment. Tomorrow we might be targeting hobbyists like hang gliders or stamp collectors. The idea is to provide specialised information content that is useful for you."

Ponnappa explains, "The information is fed on to a software programme at the Biogard office in Bangalore. The company has about 12 scientists working for six hours a day each on this particular project. The information they evolve is fed into a paging protocol software. This brings the information directly into our system and the material is paged directly to the doctors without any human intervention. This software is called Hotline Power. It's a desktop paging software. Data has to be fed into it and directed towards a particular group, like say, cardiologists. The system takes care of the rest."

Today CIMS is used by doctors mostly for ready reference on drug names that are listed generically, by brand etc.

Does Hotline intend to make this kind of service available as a two-way interactive procedure by which doctors can access a constantly updated databank via their pagers?

"It can be done even today," says Ponnappa. "At present, we have not attempted it as we have just launched a base product that we hope to develop on and evolve in the weeks ahead."

Ponnappa is happy with the market feedback. "The sales response over the one month that this service has been operational is most exciting. Most of the doctors that we checked back with say that about 70 per cent of the information they are sent is relevant. We hope to increase that to 80 per cent shortly. The service comes for Rs 100 a month which is all that we charge."

But has this service increased the overall number of pager users or brought more pager using doctors into the Hotline fold? "Many fringe level doctors who are thinking of whether to buy a pager or not have decided in favour of pagers and become our subscribers because of this new service," claims Ponnappa. "Also, many pager using doctors have switched to Hotline because we offer Docline."

Though Ponnappa is not willing to discuss numbers yet, he says that of all the various services they have launched, this one has gotten the best response ever. He now anticipates that drug companies will be vying with each other to advertise on Docline in another three months.

Will that not annoy the doctors? Ponnappa assures, "Oh no! They love it as long as it's relevant to them... They like to know what new products are available, or what deals are on offer for them."

According to him, pager penetration amongst doctors in the four or five major cities is 20 to 30 per cent. He is also confident that they will be able to get half of this number as subscribers soon.

The doctor market of pager users, he estimates, is around 30,000 in five cities. Hotline hopes to capture about 12,000 doctors for this service. Will the service fee then come down? Only if advertisers bare the bulk of the cost, he says.

However, CIMS will continue to be their only source for information. Doctor users interviewed by Rediff say they find this service quite useful.

"Busy doctors who don't even have time to eat their food, leave alone read the latest journals, will certainly find this service helpful as they will at least remain reasonably in touch with latest developments in medical research," says Dr P Sarkar, head of the Department of Obstetric and Gynaecology at Devaraj Urs Medical College, Kolar. "However, I think the service would benefit from feedback from us users as well. For example, earlier they were giving us a lot of information on breast and ovarian cancers. I pointed out to them that we get cervical cancer in India. Breast cancer is very rare. I told them that they must educate themselves on what diseases are prevalent here and supply information about them. That would be of practical use to us. For example, they used to send us data on thrombosis, which I have never seen in my life. On the other hand, we do get pulmonary embolism following an operation as we are a tropical country."

Paediatrician Dr Jagadish Chinnappa feels that it is a little early to evaluate the service as its very new but still would like it to be made less expensive. "You cannot solve any major problems using this information," he says. "Due to the limits of the medium, the data conveyed is very brief. But it is interesting and certainly helps to raise our awareness levels. The service certainly has the potential to be developed into a useful tool."

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