Mobile Phones Stopping Fraud and Abuse in Health Care in Uganda

It seems like every other day the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council receives reports about patients who have been conned or harmed by unscrupulous people posing as medical personnel and operating unregistered and unlicensed clinics. In response to this troubling problem and building on the launch of an electronic human resources information system (HRIS), the Uganda Capacity Program has successfully launched an SMS service to empower and enable patients to verify that a clinic and/or a medical professional is registered and licensed by sending a short text message.

It is a simple and practical solution in a country like Uganda where the mobile phone has taken people by storm; even in the remotest places, people have mobile phones. Now to verify a clinic or a medical professional, all you have to do is type the doctor’s name or clinic name and location in a text message and send it to 8198. The service will then reply with the doctor’s or clinic’s full name, registration number, qualification, and license status, permitting users to make more informed decisions about their health care.

The service is especially aimed at reaching people in rural areas who have little or no access to the Internet and cannot benefit from a number of publications the medical council produces. Rural communities are also particularly likely to be preyed on by quack practitioners.

This new tool builds on the collaboration between the Uganda Capacity Program, several professional councils, the Ministry of Health, and district staff to create an HRIS in three ministries as well as health professional councils and districts. So far, an HRIS has been established in the four health professional councils—the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council, the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council, the Pharmacy Council, and the Allied Health Professional Council—as well as at the Ministry of Health and in 64 districts. The Uganda Capacity Program plans to implement the mobile phone verification service for the other professional councils by the end of 2011. The new services will be publicized through the radio stations to educate people about this tool.