“Malaysia is 5 to 10 years behind in telemedicine as compared to countries like the US, India, and China,” stated Maran Virumandi, DoctorOnCall’s (DOC) managing director and co-founder in an older interview.
DOC is one of Malaysia’s first digital health platforms providing online appointment bookings, medication deliveries, telehealth consultation, etc.
Maran added that on top of lagging in telemedicine, Malaysia is falling behind in other digital-based industries from regional players like Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam, in the areas of fintech, e-commerce, and EVs, for instance.
To aid the growth of Malaysia’s telemedicine industry, DOC wants to increase the reach and accessibility for such services by proposing public-private partnerships in digital health.
Here’s How We Can Catch Up
For one, the Digital Economy Blueprint should recognise digital health as a key industry in Malaysia, Maran told Vulcan Post. He suggested that a National Digital Health Sandbox could also be established to grow qualified telemedicine services in expanding regionally and globally.
Additionally, partnerships between public and private digital health investments could lower the country’s healthcare costs, which can take up to 50% of the country’s budget.
“Thus, through public-private partnerships, Malaysia can leap-frog our regional peers by adopting advanced technologies in digital healthcare with AI, IoT, big data analytics, and blockchain,” Maran explained.
To exemplify the possibility of such collaborations, the team came up with DOCPod, a mobile clinic to access the needy and rural communities.
Bringing Healthcare To The Patients
Piloted in Langkawi in 2019, the project was backed by the National Technology & Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) under the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI).
Patients who visited DOCPod were connected through IoT health screenings that could check their BMI, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, amongst other diagnostics on-site.
There, they could also speak to doctors at public health clinics through video or voice calls. If patients had more serious conditions, they would be referred to physical checkups at Klinik Kesihatan Malaysia (KKM).
However, patients with chronic diseases usually require follow-up checks every few months, and many tend to bail, simply refilling their medicines instead. This problem is further heightened when clinics are inaccessible, especially in rural areas.
Thus, DOC proposed that DOCPod could bridge this gap by screening patients’ vitals, paired with its virtual consultations. Furthermore, DOC can also deliver medicines to patients’ homes if required.
It was the example Maran provided to show the possibilities of what public-private partnerships could look like. In Q1 of 2021, DOCPod received a RM500,000 grant from the NTIS under MOSTI via the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC). The funding is planned to facilitate the prototype design and its construction, along with conducting marketing initiatives.
Roadblocks Redirected The Traffic Online
Due to the pandemic’s movement restrictions, many patients were discouraged from attending physical checkups. This change was reflected in DOC’s growth trends as well, which saw a rough 15 million users visiting its site in 2020. To date, the platform’s monthly average users (MAU) has grown from 600K in January 2020 to 2.5 million in January 2021.
And the team has also seen a shift in customer demands. Prior to COVID-19, the platform mostly facilitated basic telehealth and medication deliveries. But when the pandemic struck, more patients began seeking everything from specialist telehealth and appointment bookings to at-home COVID-19 tests.
“The Malaysian public adapted very fast to the new normal and we were fortunate that DoctorOnCall’s platform was ready to accommodate the growth spurts,” Maran shared.
“Frankly, we were pleasantly surprised to see our popularity shoot up and the statistics showed approximately 76% of Malaysians started their healthcare journey through research online and social media.”
Among the most popular activities done through the platform were patients checking their symptoms and browsing through prices for medications and treatments.
Their proudest achievement from the pandemic? Signing with the MOH to establish an online appointment system for the country’s KKM network. It was an initiative to reduce congestion at public clinics when social distancing was vital amongst patients.
In addition, DOC also helped the MOH establish a virtual health advisory portal to debunk any misinformation spread about COVID-19. “This medium is the first of its kind initiated by a government in the region,” proudly said Hazwan Najib, DOC’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.
- You can learn more about DoctorOnCall here.
- You can read more about our past coverage on DoctorOnCall here.
Featured Image Credit: Maran Virumandi & Hazwan Najib, Co-Founders of DoctorOnCall / Pexels