A doctor in your pocket

Monday, November 11, 2019


In Rwanda, mobile phones are being used to deliver fast and affordable healthcare to citizens, with promising results. This article is part of a series about the power of innovation to solve social and economic challenges. Stories and statistics are drawn from the Global Innovation Index 2019 – your guide to world-changing ideas.


Broadband access and smartphone usage are becoming ubiquitous throughout the world, with 90% of the developed world and 41% of the developing world on broadband, and smartphones projected to reach 40% of the global population by 2021.


Mobile connectivity allows providers to gather data on users, and to deliver services to them. This capability is providing fertile ground to healthcare innovators looking for new ways to deliver medical care.


The advantages of mobile healthcare are particularly relevant to those living in areas with low patient-doctor ratios, in remote and isolated communities and in places with poor road infrastructure.



Babyl Rwanda

Rwanda has a low patient-doctor ratio, a high rural population, and challenging terrain. In response, the country is capitalising on an exceptionally high mobile phone penetration rate of over 76%, to deliver healthcare services to citizens.


Phone app Babyl Rwanda gives users immediate access to healthcare professionals. The app allows the client to send an SMS requesting an appointment, to pay quickly and easily using widespread mobile payment services, and then to take part in consultations with a health professional by phone.


If diagnosis and treatment is possible over the phone, prescriptions can be delivered by SMS. If not, referral to a health facility is texted to the client.


With over two million registered users – roughly 30% of the adult population in Rwanda – and over 280,000 consultations performed, digital healthcare through Babyl Rwanda is expanding provision of medical care throughout the country. It is also encouraging people to consider engaging with healthcare services at an earlier stage, resulting in better outcomes.


AI, the next step

Babyl Rwanda is now integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into the Babyl call center, health posts, and health centers. The AI system will mimic the thought processes of a medical doctor, with the company hoping it will serve as a substitute for in-person consultations.


If the AI technology is successful, it will help healthcare services to cope with a shortage of highly skilled health professionals.


By combining readily available technology with emerging AI and human medical expertise, Babyl Rwanda is helping to ensure that healthcare services are readily accessible and affordable to the Rwandan population.


This piece is extracted from Innovation and Health: How big data, artificial intelligence, and other technologies are changing healthcare


Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) licence. That means you can copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format for any purpose, even commercially, but you cannot change it in any way.


You may also like

View all blog posts