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Choose your doctor via 24/7 health line

New Delhi, Feb. 7: Finding and picking the right doctor may soon become a bit easier for people across five Indian metros, including Calcutta, through a new 24-hour telephone line launched today by a private healthcare company.

The line, claimed to be India’s first independent phone-based and web-based healthcare information service, will provide people information about symptoms and illnesses, and could guide patients to specialists through a database of doctors.

Religare Technologies, which launched its HealthLine 24x7 — available at 33006666 — in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai today, will open lines in Calcutta and Chennai within three weeks, senior company officials said.

“This line will empower consumers across the country,” said Pankaj Vaish, president, Religare Technologies. “They may ask about symptoms they’re experiencing, the drugs they’ve been prescribed, or use the line to search for a specialist.”

Vaish said about 100,000 doctors had already registered with the helpline, which will be able to provide consumers information about where the doctors got their medical degrees, their qualifications and experience, and the fees they charge. “We also expect patients who are looking for second opinions from specialists to make up a significant proportion of the callers,” he said.

While the information service — which will be available through www.healthline24x7.com — is free for consumers, the company plans to charge registered doctors various levels of fees for services such as maintaining webpages.

But a consumer affairs expert cautioned that a healthcare helpline raises issues of patient privacy.

“Callers should be aware that when they ask for information, they’ll also be giving some information about themselves — and information about illness is usually supposed to be confidential between patients and doctors,” said Bejon Misra, founder of the Healthy You Foundation, a non-government consumer organisation.

Company officials, however, said callers would have to register themselves giving only their names and telephone numbers. In trial runs, the helpline has attracted about 200 calls each day, a company spokesperson said.

The line will be answered by shifts of doctors, nurses, and other health care personnel trained to respond to questions that might range from the side effects of medications to alternative therapy options, to cost comparisons of medicines and doctors.

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