Tapping growing telehealth market
Calyn Yap 
Since its launch, DoctorOnCall has been growing the general practitioner segment, says Maran

Although not a new technology, telehealth is becoming increasingly popular, with keen competition among online solution providers.

One such company is Health Digital Technologies Sdn Bhd (DoctorOnCall.com.my) which focuses on online medical consultations conducted through video, voice and chat technologies.

DoctorOnCall was set up by Maran Virumandi and Hazwan Najib in late 2015, after identifying  an area of healthcare where technology could benefit both patients and doctors.

“Millions of patients across Malaysia find it inconvenient to get to doctors for various reasons, such as traffic and lack of transportation. That’s what we want to address.

“We took time to develop the systems and technology. Since our launch, we’ve been growing the general practitioner (GP) segment,” says Maran. The platform was launched in April last year.

According to the two company directors, DoctorOnCall’s focus is the GP segment as about 80% of patients seek medical treatment for common ailments such as cold, flu and cough.

“We’re trying to help patients get the first line of defence – the first consultation – and in some cases, a second opinion. Basically, we provide a channel for doctors to speak with patients, diagnose and prescribe medicine,” says Maran.

However, the duo stress that DoctorOnCall is not an emergency hotline but dedicated to providing convenience to patients for common medical conditions.

It has registered 8,000 to 10,000 consultations using online chats, voice and video calls, which Maran says is just “touching the tip of the iceberg’.

The platform’s key advantage is its ability to offer delivery of medication to patients, leveraging its network of partner pharmacies and clinics. For those with urgent needs, the company can arrange for delivery within two hours, especially in the Klang Valley.

DoctorOnCall works with regulators and the Malaysian Medical Association on legal and compliance aspects. These include medication that can be prescribed and issuance of medical certificates (MCs) and referral letters.

Issuance of MCs can be a thorny issue, but Hazwan is quick to emphasise that the company rather errs on the side of caution in issuing MCs to retail patients as it has agreements with a number of corporations that recognise its MCs.


Combating negative perceptions

The online service provider does have its fair share of challenges, largely on awareness and understanding.

“Many patients lack understanding on telehealth and services covered,” says Hazwan.

“Many patients lack understanding on telehealth and services covered,” says Hazwan

Despite being a registered medical platform. DoctorOnCall still faces negative public perceptions caused by unlicensed medicine sellers on social media.

To counter these, the company has invested a significant sum to educate the market via blogs and online content written mainly by medical professionals.

Hazwan says the awareness and education programme will help boost the company’s credibility. The DoctorOnCall blog has over 200 articles written by doctors and its own team.

It is working on developing more strategic partnerships with companies and insurers, which can also help create awareness and implement mitigation plans to treat the root causes of common healthcare issues.

“The industry lacks partnerships. Companies see us as a treatment provider, but we want to proactively help them manage and improve their employees’ quality of life, and ultimately reduce the cost of employee healthcare,” explains Maran.

He says DoctorOnCall has signed up a number of strategic partners, insurers and companies which will be its focus in the next 18 months. It also wants to recruit more doctors to boost its 15-member team.

Presently, there is no digital platform to deliver large-scale healthcare programmes and DoctorOnCall wants to tap this market, he adds.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 261.