First response: Fighting the coronavirus with tech and team work

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Published: June 3, 2020 12:30 AM

Project StepOne powers state helpline numbers through a scalable network of existing cloud telephony, queuing systems and a network of doctors on call

The StepOne telemedicine initiative is compliant with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) automated triaging protocol.The StepOne telemedicine initiative is compliant with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) automated triaging protocol.

During the lockdown phase in some of the worst affected regions, many Covid helpline systems simply collapsed under the burden of hundreds of calls from all corners. That’s when an innovative bunch of startups swung into action and formed an Action Covid-19 team. Thus came about Project StepOne, formed by 21 startups including Freshworks and Ozonetel; a telemedicine collective representing one of the largest numbers of nationwide volunteer doctors to augment state governments’ helpline numbers. StepOne now is an empanelled partner for telemedicine consultations on Aarogya Setu Mitr, an ancillary service on the Aaroya Setu app that enables free tele-consultation for those with Covid-19-like symptoms.

Rahul Gupta, one of the key team members at StepOne, said, “In March when we ideated StepOne, our simple mission was to keep people at home, to support them in overcoming their fears and uncertainties with regard to Covid-19 symptoms. Thanks to the team’s strong healthcare background we understood the immediate need to safeguard our doctors. Tele-screening is the fastest and physically the most distanced way to identify suspects and guide them to self-isolate so that they don’t infect more citizens or our healthcare workers. StepOne is an inclusive solution that works across geographies and is device agnostic; citizens can call us from feature or smartphones.”

StepOne operates in seven states including Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra, Odisha, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Nagaland. The IVR has been localised for every state and is currently live in English, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Odia, Punjabi and Nagamese. In the last seven weeks over one million calls have been triaged, and 70,000 tele-consults undertaken by 6,000 plus verified doctors. The consultations have led to the identification of over 3,000 high-risk patients, upon whom the respective state governments have taken appropriate action.

The StepOne telemedicine initiative is compliant with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) automated triaging protocol. The helpline records citizens’ inputs on symptoms and travel history, assigns a priority flag based on which they get a call back from the doctor powered through cloud telephony. StepOne has also set up the technology back-end for mental health helplines in the states of Punjab, Odisha, and Karnataka. Due to high anxiety levels and mental trauma owing to challenging economic and health conditions, getting access to sound counselling is recognised as a vital tool for citizens.

Gireesh Subramaniam, VP of product management at Freshworks, said, “Freshworks is proud to be part of Project StepOne as state governments and tech companies partner to form the backbone of this important work—helping Indians stay safe and healthy during the pandemic.We are gratified by the contributions from our team members who at times have put in 18 hours a day to ensure that StepOne initiatives are helping as many people as possible.”

StepOne was the first Covid-19 combat project to get a grant from the ACT Fund, set up by various venture capital firms and entrepreneurs to support initiatives fighting against Covid-19. It received a grant of Rs 25 lakh from ACT and a matching contribution from Omidyar Network India. The funds are being allocated to cover infrastructure expenses such as telecom, and servers.

C Chaitanya, CIO of Ozonetel, said, “StepOne has shown what is possible when you can leverage the power of collaboration of the best of the brains in the ecosystem. Even working remotely is not a constraint. Though many in the team compete for the same customers, for the country, everyone came together.”

On similar lines, Meera Iyer, CMO of Medlife, remarked: “We are delighted to be part of this initiative that is helping India be safe. Partnerships like this help us achieve our vision and we get motivated more by the real difference we are able to make.”

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