Doctors speak out about long waiting times and high costs of medical care in South Africa – unveil a new way to see a doctor immediately from anywhere in the country
CAPE TOWN – It’s no secret South Africa is in the midst of a healthcare crisis.
Last year, South Africa ranked among the bottom 22% on the 2023 global healthcare index. Well behind Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi and even war-ravaged Sudan. In fact, South Africa scored worse than many regions involved in active wars; from Israel, Jordan and Palestine to Russia as well as Ukraine, they all performed better than SA.
So, what’s wrong with the healthcare in South Africa?
Reports are rife of patients being left standing for hours in endless queues in pelting rain and harsh sunlight outside clinics, waiting to see a doctor.
Absolute horror stories of deathly ill patients being ignored, neglected and left out in corridors or even lying in their own urine for days in hospitals are shockingly common. And this is not even during the COVID pandemic, but just normal business days.
Researchers already found that the average waiting time at some clinics was almost 4 hours two years before COVID. That’s double the country’s legal framework for waiting times (2 hours, which is already much longer than most other countries).
To make matters worse, healthcare costs in SA are spiralling out of control.
According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa spends a bigger share of its money on private healthcare than any other country in the world. But that only covers 16% of the population.
For almost 90% of South Africans, private healthcare is completely unaffordable. And public healthcare is failing very fast. See how much doctor consultations cost and learn how medical aids can reduce out-of-hospital costs by R3bn per year.
“What this means for patients is they either have to spend up to R500 or more to see a private doctor, or they have to go sit for hours in long queues at public clinics and hospitals,” says Dr Piet Van Niekerk, a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery doctor who says he’s had enough watching South Africans suffer for no good reason.
“We need to get people to see a doctor immediately, and it needs to be affordable enough that anyone can easily afford it. That's what South Africans need right now.”
“Patients might not always know better, but we doctors can tell when healthcare is not working,” says Dr Van Niekerk, who’s worked for over a decade in both public and private health facilities in South Africa.
“And you simply cannot let a sick person sit and wait hours for help – that’s what makes them get worse, that’s what’s causing innocent people to suffer needlessly.
“We need to get people to see a doctor immediately, and it needs to be affordable enough that anyone can easily afford it. That's what South Africans really need.”
And he’s certainly not alone there. We did a quick survey among a few doctors in South Africa and 70% of doctors agreed that what South Africa needs is for medical professionals to be able to help more patients, faster, and it needs to cost way less.
“We need to take into account every patient’s budget and respect people’s time,” says Dr Melanie Kruger, who has moved her GP practice fully online. “That’s where using new technologies can help take us doctors to the patients instead of making them come to us – and allow us to cut costs.”
“You don’t have to sit for hours in a queue anymore to see a doctor. You don’t even have to travel anywhere. You can simply pick up your phone, hit one button and the doctor sees you instantly.”
“After working in a few clinics and hospitals, I spent a few months working with telehealth companies,” says Dr Van Niekerk. “And that’s when I realised that South Africa does not need to wait for more hospitals to be built or the NHI to make a difference. We can use technology to start reaching more patients for less, today.”
Dr Van Niekerk built upon the lessons of telemedicine (when patients consult doctors over the phone) and spent a few years building Udok a brand-new way for any patient to see a doctor instantly, from anywhere in South Africa, for much cheaper.
“Udok allows us to do virtual consultations via people’s phones or devices,” says Dr Van Niekerk.
“This means you don’t need to travel to a clinic when you’re sick. You don’t even need to make an appointment. The doctors are already waiting for you.”
“You simply open your phone, request an online doctor’s consultation and the doctor joins you within a minute or two via a video call,” Dr Van Niekerk explains.
Udok doctors can advise you, make recommendations, keep records, write sick notes, give you prescriptions, write referrals and even manage your lab tests. Just like if you were at a hospital.”
This means you don’t have to sit for hours in a queue anymore to see a doctor. You don’t even have to travel anywhere. You can simply pick up your phone, hit one button and the doctor sees you instantly.
“We’ve made it so that you see a doctor from anywhere in South Africa,” says Dr Van Niekerk. “It doesn’t matter where you are; you can be in a different province, the doctor will still see you immediately, just like on a WhatsApp call.
“The difference is that our system is set up for medical purposes,” he continues.
“That means we have only real, vetted and qualified doctors on Udok. The system is built to keep all your medical records for you, just like a hospital, and our system is already linked with pharmacies, laboratories and specialists so that our doctors can advise you, make recommendations, keep records, write sick notes, give you prescriptions, write referrals and even manage your lab tests. Just like if you were at a hospital.”
The best part, however, is how much money you can save, according to Dr Van Niekerk.
“Instead of paying R500 or more just to see a private doctor at their practice, you get to see the same doctor for just R348. And you don’t even have to travel anywhere, you can consult them right from your own home.
“It even works for your whole family. If you sign up to Udok via the app as the main beneficiary, you can add your family as dependents, and they can all get the same quality healthcare as you, at no extra cost,” explains Dr Van Niekerk.
Over 50,000 South Africans have switched over to seeing their doctor on the Udok medical app, to save money and get help within a few minutes. And you can too.
To skip the queue and see a doctor for much cheaper, simply follow these simple steps:
1. Head over to the Udok app
2. Select “register as a patient” – it’s free, forever
3. Sign up with your name and email
4. Then simply hit “request a consultation” and a doctor will see you instantly.
You don’t need medical aid to use Udok, you simply request a consultation, settle the R348 fee immediately and the doctor will consult you, prescribe medication, and refer and advise you on any device in the comfort of your own home.
If you do have medical aid, though, you’re more than welcome to use Udok, too.
“I like being able to help more people from all over SA,” says Dr Kruger, who’s built her online practice fully on the Udok platform. “Especially helping people who would normally not be able to afford private healthcare – the system really allows us to make good quality healthcare available to everyone, faster and more affordably.”
The doctor will see you now
Plus: No queues, no waiting, no travelling necessary. You can speak to one of the best doctors in South Africa right now, on your device – within 1 minute.
They can give you a prescription, sick note, advice & can even write referrals for lab tests – anything you need from the comfort of your home.