How many of you know the number for the ambulance service in Vietnam? A quick guess — not many. It is 115. And if you are in need of emergency medical treatment, you’re likely to get a taxi to the nearest hospital, go to FV’s accident and emergency department, or call a service like Family Medical Practice or International SOS.
Enter Dr. Rafi Kot, the driving force behind Family Medical Practice, the first foreign medical practice in Vietnam, and the person who last month launched his EMR *9999 Emergency Response Service.
Based on the ProQA software developed by the American company, Priority Dispatch, which is used by the 911 service in the US and in 52 countries around the world, Rafi has set up an emergency response centre and bought a fleet of ambulances where medical team are able to work on patients inside the vehicle.
People call Star 9999 in an emergency and get through to an operator called an emergency medical dispatcher. The dispatcher uses the software to ask questions of the caller, and through the use of the ProQA software system, it is determined whether an ambulance needs to be sent. Within 30 to 40 seconds of the call starting, if transport is needed an ambulance team will start getting ready to deal with the emergency. In the meantime, the dispatcher stays on the phone, helping the patient or the caller to ensure that any immediate medical needs can be taken care of while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
A Numbers Game
According to Rafi, the key to making this system work is the phone number; star on the keypad followed by the digits 9999.
“I’ve been harbouring this [idea] for a long time,” he explains. “It started from land medics and I understood that we need to have a strong land logistical response. Strong in terms of far-reaching, quick and something we can work with. So I decided to do a 115 service.”
The catalyst, however, was the discovery that a telecommunications company in Vietnam had started a star phone service. “So I bought all the nines — every nine that exists, I have it.”
Rafi’s next step was to get feedback. During visits to four schools — two Vietnamese and two international — he asked the kids which number they would remember. Their response? *9999.
“You can’t have an ambulance number which is, you know, 08 117 68 654 and so on. The star service is the accelerator of this [project].”
He then started creating an emergency response centre. Out of over 1,000 applicants who applied to work in the centre, they ended up with eight people. The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch came over to Vietnam to provide training.
Finally came the business model.
“We decided that US$25 per person, per year is a price that people can afford,” says Rafi.
Since its launch on Oct. 1, the service has gained over 1,000 subscribers. Numbers are rising fast. There are no family or business memberships — in an emergency it takes too long to go through lists to check who’s included and who’s not. Instead, membership is on a name only basis. And if you’re not a member, the cost of using the service starts at US$80 during office hours and US$180 after hours. If you’re in non-covered areas, prices start at US$346, and in all cases, payment will be dealt with after the emergency is over.
Rafi’s goal over the next two years is to have 300,000 members.
“It’s ambitious and we won’t reach it,” he says. “But for now I’m happy it’s only a thousand as it gives us time to refine, fine-tune and make sure we consider all eventualities. This is an operation that once you begin, you can’t stop.”
He adds: “The whole operation depends on the number and people knowing the number and remembering it.”
Which means lots of publicity. And ensuring that everyone in Ho Chi Minh City remembers these digits — *9999.
The EMR *9999 service operates in Districts 1, 2, 3, Phu Nhuan and parts of Binh Thanh. A new district will be added to the service every four months. To sign up call 0932 776971 or click on star9999.vn