User-unfriendly Mor Prom app a flop
Two months ago, the Public Health Ministry announced an ambitious plan to use "Mor Prom," a Line account and mobile application to manage Covid vaccine registrations. Mor Prom is not just another mobile app. The ministry is reported to have adopted artificial intelligence (AI) technology to assist in Covid vaccine registration, dubbed to be the largest mass vaccination in Thai history, to be smooth and seamless.
Alas, Mor Prom -- which means Doctor's Ready in the local vernacular -- has proved to be anything but smooth and seamless.
Mor Prom crashed on May 1 -- which happened to be the day of its launch.
Many users -- particularly targeted groups such as the elderly and those with chronic disease -- were more than disappointed.
The registration process on the platform was anything but user-friendly. One of my friends took nine hours to register for her mother, just to find out last week that the system cancelled her appointment without any notification.
The administrator of the database must have messed it up. Some users reported that Mor Prom alerted them that they had already had their first jabs before they had even been given an initial appointment.
Mor Prom's poor user experience does not just stir frustration among millions of Thais affected by the ongoing third wave of Covid-19. It also holds back the speed of vaccination in Thailand. Many people make jokes about the app that the "people are ready, but the doctor is not".
As of Friday, the government had provided two million doses of coronavirus vaccines to the people. About 960,000 of those were second jabs, equivalent to 1.4% of the population with only two vaccines -- Chinese-made Sinovac and Swedish-English AstraZeneca brands.
To deal with the unready Mor Prom app, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul offered walk-in vaccinations, only to be overruled by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha last week.
The PM showed concern for the unmanageable influx of walk-in cases at hospitals. He urged people to book vaccinations with hospital staff directly or go back to Mor Prom and change their appointments.
Why did this "digital health initiative" turn into such a sour experience for the whole country? In my humble opinion, I found the lack of transparency and the top-down approach implemented by the government, especially the Public Health Ministry, are the main reasons that makes Mor Prom so unready.
Mor Prom Line is built upon the Public Health Ministry's Line account "MOPH Connect", a digital health pilot project intended to help patients book hospital services and trace their health records.
The idea is similar to healthcare digitalisation in developed territories including Taiwan and Singapore, where governments have implemented all-in-one mobile health apps for people's convenience.
The Public Health Ministry's executive may want to use Covid-19 vaccinations as a chance to transition MOPH Connect into the Mor Prom brand.
But that decision might prove to be a recipe for disaster -- like giving a rookie his debut in the World Cup final. The MPOH data pilot is just that -- an untested project at a nascent stage being used when the stakes are at their highest.
The Mor Prom development cycle ignored one of the most critical components of successful health digitalisation -- the inclusion of stakeholders at every stage in the cycle. The pilot was reportedly overseen by a relatively unknown IT firm, and the result was an app ill-suited to the needs of its core users, the general public and health workers on the frontline.
Unaware of the drawback, the decision-makers in ministry unthinkably ordered the developer to offer an unlimited number of vaccination time slots on the Mor Prom platform without consulting hospital staff about their vaccination capacity. This has resulted in many cancellations of appointments made using this supposedly cutting-edge service.
Some health workers have revealed on social media some of the details about happened behind the scenes. They were forced by health authorities to register all the patients listed in their hospitals' database on Mor Prom without first seeking those patients' consent. It pushed up the number of vaccination bookings within a few days.
This might help to save face for the government and decision-makers behind the app's development. But it is causing hardship on health workers and hospital operators who now feel reluctant to cooperate with a government they believe is out of touch with their needs.
The failure of Mor Prom should be a lesson learned for the government and health authorities. The success of health digitalisation in the pandemic is not about using the most sophisticated technology or catchy interface. It's about using the right technology at the right time and to make sure this technology is responsive.
After Mor Prom's troubles, many provincial health workers have recently built their own platforms for vaccination appointments using more simple technology such as regular websites and Google forms that take a few minutes for users to book vaccinations.
They are also consulting their hospital networks to decide who should be responsible for the groups to be vaccinated first. Also, they are engaging the networks of village health volunteers and primary care providers to promote programmes which enable those in local communities to book appointments on the ground.
In its rush to develop Mor Prom, the ministry has wasted money and energy on a project not fit for purpose. But beyond just squandering cash, it has wasted valuable time for vaccinations -- which is a crucial factor in the war against Covid-19.
Paritta Wangkiat is a Bangkok Post columnist.
Paritta Wangkiat is a Bangkok Post columnist.