Digital health options such as telehealth and on-demand medicine delivery has grown as a result of the ongoing pandemic. This is also true for Malaysia, as technology has been crucial in dealing with increased demand and a disruption in the logistics and access to care.

One of the players leading the charge is DoctorOnCall, a digital health startup based in Malaysia that offers telehealth services (video consultations with doctors) and pharmaceutical delivery.

According to their founder and CEO, Maran Virumand, the COVID-19 situation has led to a significant growth in visits and usage of their services. They also recently launched a COVID-19 home-testing and drive-through sites, to help with the growing demand.

To better understand the growing industry and the new role that digital health services will play in the future of healthcare, we spoke to Maran to get the inside scoop on the evolving industry.

DoctoronCall platforms

How has your business changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Allow me to introduce you to DoctorOnCall. DoctorOnCall was established in 2017 is Malaysia’s leading Digital Health platform that connects patients with an extensive network of healthcare professionals such as doctors and pharmacists etc. It began with our mission to provide high-quality, accessible and affordable healthcare as well as protection (insurance) service to patients throughout Malaysia.

We also have a vision of bringing Malaysian healthcare into the digital world by providing an open and trusted platform, that allows these professionals an avenue to practice safely by providing the digital tools, training, change management and marketing.

Prior to COVID-19 hitting our shores, we were hitting a positive 20%, month on month growth. Since February this year, DoctorOnCall’s website has seen over five million visitors to the website; over three million monthly active users and successfully concluded thousands of consultations between patients and doctors.

Can you describe how digital health services like DoctorOnCall are able to bring the efficiencies of a digital service to healthcare?

To begin with, let me share what patients can experience on the DoctorOnCall platform. The DoctorOnCall portal is accessible via its website and an app is being developed and slated to be launched soon. Via the website, patients can chat, phone or video call from anywhere in Malaysia on their mobile devices or desktop computers and speak to private specialists or General Practice (GP) doctors.

This Digital Health solution removes the many inefficiencies that include physically travelling to a hospital or GP clinic, the waiting times
and higher cost in medications.

During the consultation, the doctor will take the history of the patient and obtain as much info about the patient’s complaint. All of these are recorded and is an example of an electronic patient/medical record which can referred to by the doctor in the future too. This is noteworthy as many Government and/or private clinics in Malaysia do not have electronic patient medical records. Therefore, when a patient receives consultation from a Doctor on our platform, there is some form of record which makes a follow-up consultation for same ailment very easy and all saved in a digital format.

Following the consultation, patients who require medication are given a prescription which they can use to purchase medications in the e-pharmacy available on our platform. At DoctorOnCall, we adhere to the dispensing guidelines and regulations as well as have co-created specific guidelines with our partner pharmacies such as CARING Pharmacy, Pharmaniaga and many others to ensure that all parties are protected and can work in a professional manner.

Medications ordered at 30-70% cheaper than hospitals and clinics, are then delivered in the same day (if in an urban centre) or the next day (in less urban areas). Ultimately, a patient does not need to leave his home or office to speak to a healthcare professional, anywhere in Malaysia, order prescription medications and make payments digitally.

What do you say to people who question the effectiveness or ability to maintain quality when it comes to digital services?

Based on our experience, prior to COVID-19, many patients were already looking for Digital Health solutions such as Tele-health. They were already enjoying the benefits of Digital conveniences and cost savings through the usage of solutions in other parts of the life including financial/banking (TNG e-wallet, GrabPay, Maybank2u etc). online shopping (Lazada, Shopee)
and entertainment (Netflix, Spotify).

Hence, the adoption of our Digital Health solution is really the next step and COVID-19 was the tipping point. Patients are already comfortable in getting on Digital platforms to perform various transactions of their daily lives and as discerning consumers, they expect quality services and products.

DoctorOnCall engages with experienced healthcare professionals, who by virtue of their oath and registration to the professional bodies in Malaysia, adhere to Good Medical Practices, strict legislation, guidelines and rules. This already gives patients the confidence that these professionals will afford the greatest quality of care for them should they go to hospital or GP
clinic. It is now merely extended to a convenient, accessible digital platform.

As we move forward and hopefully come to the end of the lock downs, how can you sustain the growth of digital health services?

In the early days, our services went through many challenging years of growing pains, trying to convince patients, doctors, regulators on the viability of Digital Health. Nevertheless, through our perseverance and clear strategy of engaging of both sides of the demand side comprising of
patients and payers as well as supply side comprising of providers such as clinicians and pharmacists, we were able to drive to a significant increase in consultations and appointments.

Through the years DoctorOnCall has established partnerships with top insurers, third-party administrators, benefits and claims administrators, hospitals, pharmacies and corporations. These include Prudential, Zurich, Allianz, Great Eastern Takaful, Caring Pharmacy amongst others. We also partner the state governments of Selangor, Kedah, Perak, Terengganu and Penang in their on-going health initiatives.

Since the COVID-19 battle began in Malaysia, the healthcare industry has seen about an 80% drop in patient attendance in physical clinics and hospitals as the public avoided the risk of COVID-19 infection and many discovered Digital Health, the ease and convenience of it all. We believe many of these patients will continue the use of these and will start sharing their experience with family and friends.

We expect growth to come from wider market acceptance leading to increased demand, then DoctorOnCall will be able to monetise assets, enrich offerings and lower costs. As we grow rapidly, the idea is to be a complete end-to-end healthcare ecosystem. We want to become the
MEPS (Malaysian Electronic Payment System, an interbank network service) of Digital Health in Malaysia.

Has there been a shift in consumer acceptance and behaviour in regards to digital health? What are some of the changes you have seen?

With an unprecedented effect on all aspects of daily life, COVID-19 has impacted public health and healthcare in a seismic way. Undoubtedly, it is a challenge for us more than any other healthcare issue in living memory. Digital approaches in Asia and Malaysia are helping the public stay up to date on the spread of the disease and providing better and more rapid public healthcare.

A clear example is the rapid adoption by established hospital, clinic and pharmacy chains of DoctorOnCall’s technology including Qualitas Medical Group, CARING Pharmacy, Pharmaniaga and Thomson Hospital. Now, Malaysians are able to get connected to the doctors and get medications delivered to their homes while staying safe during the various MCO periods.

Without leaving the safety of their homes, our patients are able to speak to doctors with just a private chat, phone or video call. In addition, they are also able to order and receive prescription medications safely and promptly. We have also invested in thousands of medical related content especially in Bahasa Malaysia, to answer many medical queries and concerns of these patients.

Therefore, we believe more and more Malaysians and patients will continue to frequent DoctorOnCall to enjoy convenient access to healthcare at their fingertips. COVID19 has changed healthcare and made Digital Healthcare, an essential mainstream service.

Even, the Government of Malaysia through the Ministry of Health, was quick to adopt technology and worked with DoctorOnCall on the development of a virtual health advisory launched in February this year. We do believe that moving into the next normal, telehealth and
Digital Health platforms will continue to grow and become a norm in Malaysia.

Additionally, in recent times, we have seen many companies quickly adopting tele-consultation with doctors, medication delivery and home testing for COVID-19 which was previously not covered in their old policies and procedures. These companies are also more focused on preventive aspects especially against chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, etc as COVID-19 has raised our awareness sharply on those who are high risk patients i.e. the chronic patients have significantly higher mortality rates.

Prior to the pandemic, what were some of the challenges of scaling the service in the Malaysian market?

When we began our journey, we endured many challenges from trying to convince patients to use the platform; doctors for get on the platform to reach patients they would otherwise not be able to diagnose; the regulators on the viability of Digital Health.

Prior to February 2020, DoctorOnCall website received approximately one million monthly web views with about 800,000 active users. These customers from all walks of life are from throughout Malaysia.

They were retail customers, or those acquired through our partnerships with insurers/third party administrators as well as through several state government health initiatives. The team has come a long way, through a lot of perseverance and clear strategy of engaging of both sides of the demand side comprising of patients and payers as well as supply side comprising of providers such as clinicians and pharmacists.

We were growing fast but our numbers almost tripled over the last few months because there was an urgent need to consult doctors and order prescription medication through the platform during the MCO periods in Malaysia. I am very proud of the team we built as they have been able to drive the business with a significant uptake, in consultations and appointments and COVID-19 is the tipping point for the Digital Health industry in Malaysia.

What are your expansion plans?

At DoctorOnCall, we take pride in the fact that we are independent of any existing hospital chain or medical group, as healthcare should not be exclusive to any player. We aim to maintain our independence to ensure the patients benefit from the availability of different payers, providers
and cost-saving options.

We believe growth will be from wider acceptance of patients of services offered thus leading to increased demand. This in turn will allow DoctorOnCall to monetise assets, enrich our offerings and lower costs. As we expand right here in Malaysia, we envision DoctorOnCall as a complete
end-to-end healthcare ecosystem, benefiting all the elements within.
Regional expansion is also on the cards for us, although we will not rush into it. We would like to take the Gojek approach as DoctorOnCall is serious about strengthening our foundation in our home turf, right here in Malaysia, before venturing overseas.