State of confusion

Unrealistic deadlines for app developers combined with the lack of a singular integrated registration system imperiled the early stages of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout

The Mor Prom platform met its doom on the day of its launch. A large number of people flocked to register for the Covid-19 vaccination, causing the system to break down temporarily due to overwhelming demand. Bookings for people over 60 and patients with seven chronic diseases experienced a bumpy ride ahead of the mass vaccination starting earlier this week. While the application's name is translated as doctors are ready, people joked that doctors are actually not.

Some complained about being unable to register and having their appointments cancelled without notification. Others were alerted that they had their first jabs before they were given initial appointments. Many hospitals didn't recognise patients who registered on the app. On May 26, the government revamped the vaccine allocation system and suspended jab bookings via the app. It will handle only follow-ups and certification.

Why did it flop when many platforms have been launched since the start of the pandemic? While the Thai Chana (Thailand Wins) app allows people to check in and out, the Mor Chana (Doctors Win) app enables public users and health authorities to trace coronavirus infections. Also, the government has offered relief packages via apps, for example Rao Chana (We Win), Section 33 Rao Rak Kan (We Love Each Other), and Kon La Krueng (Half-Half) schemes.

Adisak Amornchat, secretary-general of the Advertising Association of Thailand, wants an integrated platform for all users. (Photo courtesy of Adisak Amornchat)

In light of this, Life talked to experts who are calling for a single database that accurately responds to users.

Integrating health platform

Adisak Amornchat, secretary-general of the Advertising Association of Thailand, said the vaccination platform should be integrated and simplified to facilitate all groups of users because there are currently too many apps and registrations.

"I understand that developers worked to a tight deadline. Mor Prom had a lot of bugs. I was unable to schedule a vaccination for my mother on the app, but it worked very well via Line. When the app started getting better, the CCSA [Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration] suspended registration and asked people to use other platforms. I ended up booking the jab on the Thai Ruam Jai website and looking up my vaccination record on the Mor Prom app. It should be a one-stop service," he said.

Each province is launching their own vaccination registration systems like those in Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Phuket. Thais in Bangkok can sign up for the jab on the Thai Ruam Jai Safe Bangkok system via its website, the Paotang mobile app, mobile phone operators, and in-person registration at supermarket chains.

Adisak said the government should now improve communication because it keeps changing and comes from too many sources, which causes further confusion during the crisis. Meanwhile, it should develop a single database for the long term. Currently, agencies are working in silos and using their own systems.

"We can fix bugs, but it is more about management. I have long heard of the Thailand 4.0 initiative. I don't know why it is moving backwards," he added.

Neil Nilvichean, CEO of Clicknic, asks the Ministry of Public Health to implement a public health record system. (Photo courtesy of Neil Nilvichean)

Push for personal health record

'A bugless app is the one that hasn't been created yet," said Neil Nilvichean, chief executive officer of the telemedicine service provider Clicknic. Last year, medical staff at the Urban Institute for Disease Prevention and Control and the former Thammasat University Field Hospital used his app to screen coronavirus cases.

Neil said development of the app was arduous because of the different operating systems assigned to various smartphones. His app caters to fewer users than Mor Prom, and experiences bugs on some smartphones. His experience is not unique making it a daunting task to develop an app that covers Thailand's entire population.

"If you want a foolproof system, give developers eight months. Creating high-quality apps takes time, otherwise they won't be able to prevent defects. To be fair, they worked to a deadline," he said.

However, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Neil said the app for vaccine booking was launched in an untimely manner. When vaccines ran low last month, they should have been distributed according to quotas, but the app is ideally based on a first-come-first-serve basis.

"In foreign countries, people have personal health records where they can keep information, such as drugs and congenital diseases, at hand. Staff can contact them and offer guidelines on vaccination directly. On the contrary, we are being asked to sign up for jabs on a first-come-first-serve basis," he said.

His opinion echoes the argument of the Rural Doctors Society. It said the suspension of Mor Prom has nothing to do with the app, but the vaccine procurement plan. Last month, the delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine was delayed.

Neil said the Ministry of Public Health should take the lead in ensuring that all hospitals can use the public health record system. Currently, they are using their own databases. If they are linked, authorities will be able to contact them for vaccination directly without building apps in the first place.

"We don't have any leader. While private hospitals are hesitant to make risky investments, state hospitals are stretched to the limit. We can build, but not implement the system. Only the Ministry of Public Health can mandate it," he said.

Panachit Kittipanya-ngam, former president of the Thailand Tech Startup Association, calls on the government to develop technology in line with users. (Photo courtesy of Panachit Kittipanya-ngam)

Keeping up with tech

The app's problem also lies in the government's attitude. Panachit Kittipanya-ngam, former president of the Thailand Tech Startup Association, said authorities view technology as tools, not a "growing service". In fact, they must catch up with human users all the time.

"A mature technology must respond to constant change. It doesn't finish with having an app. It must have flopped a lot. On the other hand, Mor Prom has started from zero," he said.

He has launched the project Ped Thai Su Pai (Thai Ducks Fighting The Danger) to screen those suspected of contracting Covid-19. Medical staff offer advice and send those at high risk to designated hospitals.

Panachit said the government should draw the line between central and local policies and use start-ups to carry out different tasks -- such as finding beds and setting up field hospitals -- to create a complete system during the emergency.

"In the long term, the government should create an ecosystem where innovators can work. It must transform itself from service providers into data facilitators who control the flux of information and ramp up cybersecurity," he said.

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