How Freshworks is doing its bit in India’s fight against the coronavirus
Governments across the world are hunkering down to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, trying various solutions to tackle a raft of problems. From the US in the west to Japan in the east, the virus has left little geographical acreage unblemished by its ravaging run.
Among its victims, India continues to be a fighter and so far has managed to limit the public health impact of the coronavirus disease, or Covid-19, to a large extent. The government brought all activity to a screeching halt well over a month ago, giving room for healthcare professionals to isolate the sick and prevent the spread of the virus. With a largely effective lockdown since then, India appears to have warded off an exponential rise in positive cases.
As India stopped moving, a silent anti-coronavirus machine began to roll.
Multi-stakeholder groupings led by governmental organizations such as the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and state governments saw participation from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), volunteer committees, think tanks, public policy experts, and individual do-gooders on various facets of the battle against the virus.
Key among these was to set up people touch-points. Can technology be leveraged to enable a large country like India to effectively, and safely, get medical advice on coronavirus? Conversely, can the government be enabled to keep track of those who got in touch and escalate cases that might lead to positives?
At Freshworks, this demand was seen as an opportunity to serve. In just about two weeks, Freshworks partnered with volunteer groups and state governments—and in one instance a combination of both—to provide the technology backbone for three Covid-related projects in India.
Through Project StepOne, an ACT Grants-backed volunteer-driven telemedicine initiative to power state helpline numbers, Freshworks is getting doctors on the line for citizens to receive consultations. We also have a healthcare bot across four vernacular languages acting as the first level of screening for Covid and other ailments, and a field service management module that will provide the technology to assist in the delivery of essential services on the ground. Project StepOne is currently live on the Indian government’s contact tracing mobile app, Aarogya Setu, too!
Here is a breakdown of the projects:
We noticed several people trying to get in touch with federal and local governments for a gamut of reasons such as law and order problems or someone experiencing Covid-like symptoms. For all these instances, there are several options to reach out to government agencies: from social media and a central helpline to a range of state-level emergency contact centers and web portals.
We leveraged our flagship product, a helpdesk tool called Freshdesk, to create an omnichannel platform through which doctors can look at incoming queries, make a preliminary reading of the underlying problem—it could be Covid, mental health, or even a case of acute insomnia—and offer a solution. If necessary, doctors can call, too. As the technology partner, Freshworks is currently enabling over 3,000 doctors across India in addressing queries and offering solutions such as a direction to “strictly adhere to the lockdown” or “visit the nearest hospital.” The goal is to reach 20,000 doctors.
For the organizers of the telemedicine program, an easy-to-use solution was the need of the hour.
“We were looking for a robust and scalable backend solution that could store all the information gathered by the IVR and route it to the right doctor on the cloud. Freshworks offered Freshdesk gratis and it has helped us centralized StepOne’s operations,” said Ganesh Chithambalam, co-founder of StepOne. “The learning curve was minimal and we were able to get thousands of doctors and volunteers on the system without having to spend time on training,” he added.
For the folks at Freshworks, it was exciting to witness technology turning into a lever in crisis management. In the words of Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshworks:
It is incredible to see how so many people are coming together to use available technology to help their communities.
The healthcare bot
In collaboration with artificial intelligence platform company AI Foundry, Freshworks has built a healthcare bot to help governments automate the process of screening people for Covid-19. There’s a separate workflow to detect underlying non-Covid diseases. Working as per the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the bot poses a series of questions about symptoms, travel history, pin code, and other parameters to assess the degree of risk.
The bot makes important contributions:
- Through a safe and secure self-diagnosis option, it reduces hospitals’ burden in preliminary diagnosis;
- Offers government administrators actionable points on clusters, outbreak likelihood;
- Based on a combination of symptoms, medical history, travel history, etc., it helps in giving the right information to patients, considering the spread of false alarm these days (should you quarantine yourself, should you go for testing. etc.).
Currently, the Telangana state government uses the healthcare bot in its mobile application to screen patients. The ICMR, hospitals attached to the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, and several other private hospitals, too, use the bot, which so far has enabled 7,500 self-assessments.
For bureaucrats tasked with monitoring healthcare projects in populous states, having an automated system screening patients helps in freeing up resources. “Testing becomes an important aspect of fighting Covid-19 and as the healthcare system is stretched, it is great to have an automated system in the palm of your hands to help people self-diagnose and go to hospitals only if at risk,” said Jayesh Ranjan, Secretary-Information Technology, Government of Telangana.
Field service management
Under a strict lockdown, field services become important more than ever. Confined within their homes for well over a month now, Indian citizens have adjusted to the new normal valiantly. But supply of essentials and care for the elderly have posed a challenge for governments and do-gooders, given the scale of the crisis facing us.
In order to help with routing service requests efficiently to those working in the field, Freshworks has enabled the creation of ‘tickets’ on its Freshdesk mobile application. Automatically generated, they contain the information required to route service requests received from the public to a volunteer, medical professional or any other personnel working in the field.
Freshworks has ensured that a call is executed via a hyperlink from the ticket, proceeding toward an external Computer-Telephony Integration system, meaning the possibility of personal mobile phone usage is eliminated.
The Field Service Management module is live in Karnataka for a government-led volunteer group called Corona Warriors. More states could join soon.
Innovations at the eleventh hour
Some quick-fire innovations were made in record time for all these projects, offering an exciting challenge for our technology teams. For example, our flagship product Freshdesk had, for the first time, a click-to-call option. This meant a doctor just needed to click a button on the mobile app to create a bridge call with the person in need of medical advice. The calls are facilitated by an external service provider through an API integration.
If this was a cool addition to Freshdesk, the healthcare bot project taught us how to frame the right questions to avoid multiple interpretations; this was besides the challenge of making it work in vernacular. Through multiple iterations and corrections on the fly, our teams were able to hone the question workflow on the healthcare bot, which has crossed 7,500 self-assessments by the latest count.
Problems of scale always pursue large government projects like a specter. In this case, the number of calls that need to be facilitated every minute was nobody’s guess, meaning we have to provision a large capacity should the helplines get a massive load of calls. Says a team member who worked on API integration for calls: “The usual limit for an account is 700 calls a minute, but for this project [telemedicine] we have given 10 times that number!”
Well, one lives and learns…
All this, while working from home
Helping out governments during the coronavirus pandemic was more of an intuitive urge to do our bit than any elaborate planning done in advance. Executing the above projects meant a coming together of our pre-sales, product, and engineering teams—all working remotely.
Engineering and product teams had to tinker a bit on the new fields on the Freshdesk app, the bot-building exercise, and automation we hadn’t done before, besides working on integrations and marketplace applications. While we are proud of what we’ve done, there is much more to be done as we stand by India in containing the coronavirus.
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