You might be forgiven for not knowing much about healthtech or health technology in Southeast Asia. While there are services that utilise technology, by and large, it has been a slow process of adoption that was marginally sped up by the pandemic.

It is, however, a very large industry with a multitude of different verticals like telehealth (virtual consultations with doctors), EMR (electronic medical records), AI-driven diagnosis and so much more. So, in Southeast Asia, we’re scratching the surface of the industry. One such player looking to fit into a vacant leadership slot in the region is Good Doctor Technology. The company was established in December 2018, as joint venture company between Ping An Healthcare and Technology, Grab and is backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

With so much opportunity and a fragmented market, they see the potential. We speak to Melvin Vu, Regional CEO, to better understand their role in the region.

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Good Doctor Technology recently announced their plans to strengthen its regional HQ in Singapore. They aim to drive innovation through R&D and operations in Singapore to deliver healthtech solutions to the region. The company has established their presence in both Indonesia and Thailand, with a combined user base of over 13 million patients in the past two years across 100 cities in Indonesia and over 80 districts in Bangkok. This was primarily done through their technology and healthcare professional network powering the Grabhealth service.

The company has also launched their own standalone digital health app, Good Doctor, in both Thailand and Indonesia and boosts a network of more than 6,000 in-house doctors and health professionals.

Congrats on strengthening your regional HQ. Could you run us through what the goal of the RHQ is for Good Doctor?

With a mission to provide “one doctor for every family in Southeast Asia”, our goal is to democratise the access of doctors by unlocking the advances of digital health technologies which puts users back in the driver seat in managing their health in the long term. 

From RHQ’s perspective, our goal is to instill a centre of excellence, innovation and knowledge hub approach out of Singapore, to cultivate best industry practices and bring tried-and-tested approaches from our parent companies and implement them in all SEA countries we serve. 

To achieve this, we will double down on our R&D capabilities by increasing their headcount resources by 50% over the next 3 years and attract passionate talents with cross-industry experiences beyond the healthcare and technology sectors. Apart from increasing resources, we also seek to foster deeper relationships with Singapore’s leading research and education institutions to shift perceptions about the impact of digital healthcare services in managing accessibility gaps in primary healthcare across SEA. 

With these objectives in place, we look forward to increasing our thought leadership in digital health interventions while remaining as our strategic business head operations which focuses on driving continued corporate successes in Indonesia and Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries in the near future.

How large is the RHQ and what role do you see it playing in the region?

Currently, we have met 75% of our hiring capacity and look to grow our resources by 50% over the next 3 yrs. Our RHQ team will be spearheading various digital health research initiatives which will underpin our in-app product enhancement initiatives for in-country deployment across SEA, starting with Indonesia and Thailand. By taking a data-driven approach to building upgraded features and solutions, we aim to encourage users to stay proactive about their overall health management and ultimately hopes to shift mindsets and behaviours to encourage more to prioritise health and wellness ambitions.

You seem to have a very strong position in Indonesia and Thailand, could you share what you have been doing in those markets?

In both countries, we have prioritised our efforts in B2G relationships and partnership initiatives and we believe these played an instrumental role in the growth of our user base in Indonesia and Thailand. Through our relationship with local health authorities, we had the opportunity to support their nationwide initiatives to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections especially when home isolation programmes were implemented. Coupled with the shortage of hospital beds, many first-time adopters of telemedicine services relied on virtual consultations with doctors in order to navigate through their COVID-related symptoms. Specifically in Indonesia, we saw a 6 times increase in the average active user growth across our GrabHealth and Good Doctor platforms during the COVID-19 waves, of which more than 700% were COVID-19 related consults. In Thailand, we are proud to have served the largest number of COVID-19 patients in one of the key business districts in the heart of Bangkok’s city centre, with every 1 in 5 patients being referred by other patients who benefited from our virtual healthcare services.

What were some of the initial challenges that you faced when expanding in the market?

Knowledge gap was one of the main challenges we were faced with when we entered Thailand and Indonesia. We acknowledge that telemedicine is still a relatively new phenomena in healthcare despite the acceleration of adoption during the pandemic, and recognise that ongoing public awareness and educational campaigns about telemedicine and digital healthcare services is necessary to spread greater knowledge about the untapped opportunities of telemedicine that has yet to be unlocked. In both Indonesia and Thailand, we have been actively working with various brands and learning institutions to spearhead health education campaigns that are either disease specific or related to trending wellness fads, to increase general awareness of the role telemedicine has in terms of proactive health and wellness management. Apart from B2C stakeholders, we also run educational programmes for our B2B stakeholders to increase mindshare of telemedicine and organisational health management. Especially with WFH arrangements here to stay in the new normal, many HR leaders require smarter health management tools to care for the health of their employees. We believe there are many more opportunities for telemedicine services to support companies in the short to long term.

What are some of the trends in healthtech in Southeast Asia that you are seeing right now?

Firstly, telemedicine is still at its infancy in SEA and I believe it will have an instrumental role in shaping the future of healthcare in this region. With the vast disparity of healthcare resources across SEA and the increasing demands of fast and reliable yet credible health services, telemedicine is well placed to meet the growing health needs across the entire ecosystem. 

Secondly, due to the rise of digital literacy and deep internet penetration rates in SEA, telemedicine will revolutionise how people access healthcare services at speed. With COVID-19 accelerating the acceptance of digital health and telemedicine services and the speedy access to a doctor conveniently, telemedicine will no longer be treated as a pandemic novelty and can support long-term healthcare management goals especially with regards to chronic disease compliance rates. 

Thirdly, proactive healthcare management approaches will soon become the mainstream way of managing one’s health. As more seek to stay healthier for longer, people will realise that they no longer need to wait to fall seriously sick before speaking to a doctor. With earlier healthcare interventions, more will be empowered to manage their health smartly with data-backed insights about their conditions. This mindset shift away from a reactive approach to managing their health can help build the next generation of healthier nations across SEA.

What’s next for Good Doctor Technology?

Our priority is to build a re-imagined digital health ecosystem for Southeast Asia. We will achieve this by:

  1. Strengthening our RHQ capabilities and double down on R&D initiatives by partnering with research and educational institutions to unlock new opportunities for telemedicine in SEA
  2. Forge deeper relationships with our strategic B2B partners to combine our technological capabilities with our partner’s access to population groups to deliver deeply integrated and well-conceptualised products that create high value services for our end users.
  3. Foster 2-way learning and sharing initiatives across all countries we have operations and medical services in to champion best in class healthcare delivery standards 

Ultimately, our RHQ operations will continue to be a strategic innovation and knowledge hub where new digital health features and test-bed initiatives will be spearheaded and deployed in the countries we serve.