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Dr. Rachel Tong’s love for medicine and animals stemmed from her childhood, hence becoming a veterinarian was the obvious career choice for her. Together with her brother, Junyong, they grew up with a ‘mini zoo’ at home with no fewer than 10 pets. 

When the first dog they adopted passed away due to nose cancer — which was detected too late — it further spurred on Rachel’s urge to become a vet.

This later bloomed into a new business idea, as the siblings launched Pawlyclinic in September 2021, an on-demand pet healthcare platform. It aims to continuously improve the quality of life for all pets by helping pet parents proactively manage their pets’ health. 

Screenshot of Pawlyclinic’s main page

Route to digitising vet care

Rachel’s first-hand encounter with the struggles in the pet industry arose from running Pawlyclinic’s affiliate vet practice, Spring Veterinary Care. This was one of the key factors pushing her to set up her business.

Her brother also left his Vice President position with Citibank’s Investment Banking Division to launch Pawlyclinic alongside her.

Dogs at the waiting area in Spring Veterinary Care, Punggol / Image Credit: Spring Vet Care

The main idea for Pawlyclinic crystallised after seeing the various pain points for both pet parents and vet care providers in the traditional vet setting.

These obstacles included difficulties in getting an appointment, limited 24-hour and emergency vet services, stress experienced during travel to and from clinics, as well as long waiting times. There was also no efficient way of storing health records for pets.

On the other hand, vets would find themselves overwhelmed with in-clinic consultations. They also had a need for technology to deliver more comprehensive and continuous care to pets, well extending beyond the walls of their clinics. 

COVID-19 further exacerbated these obstacles. Combined with the significant growth in pet ownership rates, vets were noticing that pet parents would take a more reactive approach toward their pet’s healthcare. This meant they would only visit the vet when symptoms surfaced. 

Unfortunately, this is often too late. An old saying goes ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. Whatever healthcare regime we adopt for ourselves, we’re likely to do our best and the same for our furkids. However, it is often impractical or even challenging to make a trip to see the vet every time you have a question about your pet’s health.

– Rachel Tong, Co-Founder and Chief Veterinary Officer of Pawlyclinic

As such, Pawlyclinic’s goal is to take away the pain points experienced when seeing a vet traditionally. It’s about making vet care omnipresent, simple, and efficient for all pet parents by first enabling vets and vet practices to go digital.

A one-stop pet healthcare platform

Pawlyclinic is analogous to ‘Airbnb for vets and vet clinics’, while a normal vet clinic would be like a hotel. A traditional vet or vet clinic is focused on the actual delivery of healthcare to pets — just as hotels provide accommodation to guests — whereas we’re focused on continuously using technology and innovation to improve access to quality pet healthcare and the overall vet care experience.

– Tong Junyong, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Pawlyclinic

To simplify the user experience, Pawlyclinic runs on an integrated platform split into two main portals: Owner and Vet.

Pet parents can access their pet’s details through the owner portal

Within the ‘Owner Portal’, pawrents have access to pet telemedicine, in-clinic vet care, prescriptions, and electronic health records for their pets. They can also consult a vet online at their convenience, and have their pet’s medication delivered to their doorstep. 

If further in-clinic care is needed, owners are seamlessly referred into Pawlyclinic’s network of affiliate and partner clinics.

Vets can practise vet telemedicine via the ‘Vet Portal’, receive and organise physical appointment requests, issue digital prescriptions, as well as provide and store medical records of their patients. 

This helps increase in-clinic capacity, reduces human traffic, eases administrative burdens faced by their nurses, and allows them to meet their goal of delivering comprehensive care to their patients at any time. 

Screenshot of the vet portal interface

“We designed the platform with the goal of earning the status of being pet parents’ trusted healthcare partner as they go through life with their furkids. This meant we needed the best-in-class team of vets, the ability to choose the right vet, on-demand access to a vet, omnichannel platform to provide access to end-to-end vet care, and digitised long-term prescriptions,” Junyong continues.

How to use Pawlyclinic?

First-time users or pet owners only need to go through five simple steps to navigate Pawlyclinic. They will have to sign up via the pet parent portal on the website before searching for the right vet or vet clinic by speciality, availability or experience. 

Following which, all they have to do is set a date and time as per pet owners’ convenience, and book an appointment — either through video consultation or in-person at the clinic.

In order for the team to thoroughly assist, pawrents have to upload relevant medical reports and images, as well as describe their pets’ symptoms. Payment is to be made online to confirm the appointment.

Teleconsultation report and cost breakdown / Image Credit: Pawlyclinic

Vets on the platform set their own availability for consultations, so at any point in time, the availability of the different vets will differ.

However, Pawlyclinic ensures at any one time, they will have vets from both Spring Veterinary Care clinics as well as other of its most active partners on the platform. Its vets are currently available till 2am daily, though it’s working towards having vets available round-the-clock.

The consultation fees differ depending on the vet and vet clinic, but it starts from S$37 per consultation for a pet.

If a furkid needs in-clinic care, Pawlyclinic facilitates the referral in-app, and offsets the teleconsultation fee against the total in-clinic bill. This is as long as the visit takes place within 48 hours of the video call, so pawrents avoid being double-charged for the follow-up service. 

Prescriptions are charged separately, depending on the medicines prescribed. it’s worthy to note that Pawlyclinic offers free delivery of prescriptions to pet parents with no minimum order. 

Pawlyclinic’s teleconsultations can be done anytime, anywhere / Image Credit: Pawlyclinic

For teleconsultations, owners will join the video consultation via the pet parent portal. Rachel advises future users on things to take note of before a scheduled consultation.

“We advise pet parents to ensure they are in a brightly lit area. Using a mobile phone will provide better video resolution in comparison to a laptop. It’s also easier to manoeuvre mobile phones around so owners can show affected areas better,” she says.

“Prior to the consultation, owners should also have uploaded all relevant reports such as blood tests, X-rays, and photos of their pets’ stools, urine, or skin problem area. They should also have any medication that’s prescribed to their pet on hand to show the vet as well.”

Pet parents opting for a physical visit will just have to show up with their furkid. Since they’ve booked a time prior to the visit, waiting time is minimised.

A team with a shared vision and mission

Both co-founders drive the business day-to-day in their respective roles. As the CEO, Junyong drives and executes strategic direction and tech initiatives. He is also responsible for budgeting and forecasting, as well as building and leading the overall team. 

With Pawlyclinic introducing a range of digital services for pets, its team needs to be conceptualised with care.

“When building the team, we communicate to potential hires our mission and vision, and sell our story. We show them how we’re going to be changing the pet healthcare experience for the better through the use of technology and innovation,” explains Junyoung.

“We want people who believe in the mission and vision as much as we do. When they come onboard because they would like to execute the mission with us, rather than for compensation and benefits, we know they are likely to be teammates who will go the distance with us and build the business.”

A screenshot of some of the vets available, and their backgrounds

Meanwhile, Rachel leads all medical aspects of the business, including creating and executing its veterinary services strategy in Singapore and across the region. She also oversees operations and branding of Pawlyclinic’s telemedicine services and other offerings.

Additionally, she plays a key role in educating fellow vets on how Pawlyclinic can complement in-clinic care and enable proactive healthcare.

However, not all are receptive to Pawlyclinic’s vision and mission. In fact, one of the biggest misconceptions of vets and vet clinics is that teleconsultations add to their already-heavy-in-clinic workload.

“Pawlyclinic [actually] streamlines their workload and doubles their capacity. They’ll be able to use telemedicine to handle general check-ups which do not require physical examinations or vaccinations, post-surgery reviews and follow-ups, long-term home and palliative care, as well as other minor conditions,” debunks Rachel.

“This means they can further dedicate their time to focusing on more complex cases, treatments, and surgeries within their clinics instead of having every single case — big or small — come through.”

Driving awareness of proactive healthcare

Pawlyclinic has yet to reach a year in the market, and as with any new initiative, it encountered some challenges prior to its launch process, which exists till today.

It faces two main challenges: firstly, driving awareness of the importance of proactive healthcare, and secondly, encouraging the adoption of telemedicine and other technology tools in proactive healthcare.

“With the former, we seek to consistently educate pet parents on why proactive healthcare is important. For example, dogs age at a faster rate than humans. Hence they should see their doctor more often than we see ours,” says Rachel.

“If they only visit their vets once a year, that’s akin to us getting a general check-up every four to five years. The rapid ageing makes preventive health care even more important.”

She also emphasises Pawlyclinic’s aim to build trust and credibility amongst pawrents and vets. She acknowledges that with any innovative technology, there is an adoption curve as most are wary of using new technology, especially when it comes to something as important as healthcare. 

“One of the biggest things we try to do is enlist the help of key opinion leaders to illuminate the benefits of Pawlyclinic and how we can be a trusted healthcare partner.”

“We also obsess over providing pet parents as well as vets the best possible experience — both online and offline — every time they engage with us on the platform. There is very little room for error, as even one bad experience when using new technology is enough to put people off and discourage them from continuing to use it.”

Despite its many ongoing challenges, Pawlyclinic’s response has been encouraging. Its compound monthly growth rate from September 2021 to May 2022 has been 30 to 40 per cent across the number of active users, consultations, filled prescriptions, and the gross transaction values for both consultations and prescriptions filled.

Utilising technology in the global market

Aside from aiming for around the clock vet care, both Rachel and Junyong are confident that the platform will be highly sought after in other countries regionally.

Pet parents in other countries face a lot of the same pain points as pawrents in Singapore. There are instances in which the number of vets-to-pets ratio is significantly lower, indicating lack of access to pet healthcare.

“Many countries in Southeast Asia have large pet populations, yet relatively low pet care spending per capita. It indicates significant under-penetration and massive potential for growth. The region also boasts several fast-growing internet economies with young and digitally-savvy populations who will undoubtedly appreciate the convenience of telemedicine for their pets,” says Junyong.

Sharing future plans, the sibling team says they are focused on expanding to neighbouring countries, bringing pet healthcare expertise from Singapore to the region. The overseas foray will begin with Indonesia, where they are imminently launching. 

Any additional features for Pawlyclinic will also follow its mission closely: to continuously drive improvement in the quality of life of all pets by helping pet parents proactively manage their pets’ health. 

Featured Image Credit: Pawlyclinic

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(UEN 201431998C.)