Entrepreneur

The Diagnosis Is Out: Health Startups In SEA Are Booming Because Of These 3 Key Factors

A Fireside Chat about Digital Health in SEA was held at last week’s Wild Digital, bringing in Cole Sirucek, co-founder & CEO of DocDoc and Nic Lim of HomeGP.asia. As a couple of the industry players in the digital health arena, they were asked to give some informed opinions about the scene.

Both DocDoc and HomeGP.asia are specifically in the business of listing healthcare practitioners on their platforms. DocDoc states that they’re the largest doctor discovery company and they focus on consumer empowerment by giving them the necessary healthcare information to find the right doctors, clinics or hospitals.

Meanwhile, HomeGP takles a slightly different issue. Their bread and butter is in home care, where they partner with hospitals to provide services like renting hospital beds, delivering pharmaceuticals and getting home physicians.

We’ve made some bold claims about how 2017 is going to be a big year for health startups, and 6 months later, these predictions have somewhat come true. Health startups are getting a lot of attention right now in the Malaysian circles, and the idea that you can revolutionise and digitise something as crucial as healthcare is something that almost anyone can appreciate.

But why did it come together?

1. There’s A Real Need Being Addressed

Cole with his wife and daughter, who was told that she needed liver surgery at 90 days, from a doctor who wouldn’t give much information (Image Credit: DocDoc)

According to Cole Sirucek, this movement was actually a reaction to the evolving information technology.

Cole brought up that, “We’re just starting now to see information technology enabling aggregation of large chunks of information. And what we’re finding in terms of healthcare is really frightening. As an example in the USA, the third leading cause of death is doctors making mistakes. Number 1 is heart disease. Number 2 is cancer, and this is Number 3.”

Information technology here just means any tech that stores, shares and analyses health information, like the ones developed by sites like DocDoc, among others.

A study proving medical mistakes are a silent killer was part of a John Hopkins surgeon’s efforts to get the department of Disease Control and Prevention to include medical errors in its annual list of reporting the top causes of death in USA. And this raises the question, how much of that is happening here in Southeast Asia?

Cole pointed it out, “The trust among your network is important instead (referring to friends, family, coworkers). The problem with healthcare is that usually, your network doesn’t have the information it needs to actually allow you to make informed decisions. There is a giant difference between which doctor you go to, depending on the ailment that you have.”

An example he gave: When you go to that doctor for something he’s not sub-specialised in, you can get a knee surgery done by a guy who specialises in hips. Even if he is an orthopedic surgeon, even though that’s something that he specialises in, you’ll find that his risk of complications go up by 500%.

Speaking about his startup DocDoc, “We’re willing to help you understand with data how these different doctors rank for you given your particular situation. We’re giving you data to help you make decisions. And that builds a lot of trust. People don’t want to be sold healthcare. They want to be empowered.”

There also is a general lack of information about what their rights are. Nic spoke of his friend in insurance who has never seen any client claim the 120 days of home care that is available in most of the medical policies that are sold in Malaysia, all because they didn’t know.

2. They’re Asking For It (For Healthcare, We Mean) 

Consumers

According to Nic, Asians should “take control of their own healthcare” though there’s an increased awareness towards healthcare now.

“People used to assume that their healthcare is dependent on the government and their company or family. Well that time’s changing. Now, people have to realise that you own your healthcare. It’s your business to know how you’re feeling, how you’re doing and what you are like. And that’s the other thing that’s happening. There’s political awareness and awakening in personal healthcare.”

The onus is on users to educate themselves about what the best healthcare decision is and make that call. You can get one operation from a doctor who lives nearby, or you can fly to Japan to get the same procedure perhaps for cheaper, with a more experienced doctor. And this is all thanks to the penetration of internet here in SEA as well as everywhere else.

And to Nic, it’s all down to business. He uses a triangle, and for every axis there’s:

  • Product discovery
  • Price discovery
  • Deliverability

The other thing? It’s all about the money. 

Nic goes on to say that, “People aren’t just price takers. You don’t just go somewhere and take whatever you’re charged. With marketplaces, with price places and comparison, people care about what they’re paying for.”

Insurance

According to Nic again, “Insurance companies basically hand users a blank check and allow them to run around, just figure out which doctors to go to based on anecdotal evidence, and hope that they’re taken good care of.”

And considering that they’ve already discussed how not all doctors are the right ones for a procedure or treatment and may even cost more on top of that, this is naturally not good for insurance bottom lines either. So it’s in the insurance companies’ best interests to get on board.

3. The Right Product At The Right Time

Despite thinking that the market is now blossoming towards its true potential, Cole also stated that just like most industries, there won’t be too many winners in digital healthcare because healthcare is hard to execute.

However, with exciting new developments weekly and with partnerships such as tech giant Microsoft with local startup Doctor2U, the next few years will be a great time to see how digital innovation can transform and improve the healthcare industry.

I definitely don’t want to see this industry stagnate but I also feel like regulation is key here too. And in this, Nic agrees. In regards to his engagement with the Malaysian Medical Association, he said, “Look I’ll work with you to help regulate me. When charting uncharted territory, let’s do it together.”

But apart from the platform’s own initiative, I definitely think that some regulation needs to happen in the industry itself as its own entity. Even if the platforms self-regulate, which means they’re not answering to anyone but themselves, existing regulatory bodies should be extra proactive when it comes to moderating the digitisation of healthcare. Just as the panelists discussed, health isn’t something to be trifled with.

Feature Image Credit: Wild Digital

 

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