Telemedicine startups get pandemic lift

Telemedicine startups get pandemic lift

Telemedicine will become the new normal in 3-5 years, driven by the pandemic, say health tech startups.

"The pandemic is accelerating the adoption of telemedicine in Thailand," Jaren Siew, chief executive of Doctor Raksa, a telemedicine service provider, said via an Amazon Chime video conference.

He said the number of patients with access to telemedicine could reach 5-10 million within the next 3-5 years. Without the outbreak, changes in consumer or physician behaviours would take as long as a decade.

Mr Siew said the adoption of services in the first quarter grew 3-6 times from the same period a year earlier.

"Both public and private hospitals are interested in using our platform to provide service to patients, which would help reduce visits to hospitals," he said.

Doctor Raksa offers teleconsulting services with a pool of 700 physicians, of whom 70-90 are on standby.

In the past two years, the platform has gathered 100,000 consulting sessions and 400,000 active patient users.

The company gains commission fees of about 10% from a physician.

Medical personnel can utilise their free time to provide consulting services, Mr Siew said.

Some 60 physicians are attached to Bumrungrad International Hospital, one of Doctor Raksa's investors in Series A funding amounting to US$5 million (162 million baht). By the end of this year, the startup will undergo a Series B round of financing and expand to overseas markets.

The startup also plans to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to assist physicians in performing preliminary diagnoses.

This month, Doctor Raksa started offering an online pharmacy service for doctors to order medical supplies and medicines for delivery within one hour in Bangkok and the next day countrywide.

"Soon we will work with X-rays and blood tests or other medical laboratory equipment to provide more complete preliminary diagnoses, merging online and offline medical services," Mr Siew said.

According to Mr Siew, Doctor Raksa relies on Amazon Web Services (AWS), a cloud service under tech giant Amazon, to scale up for the rapid rise of service usage.

Telehealth is among the third-wave growth services, he said. The first wave was e-commerce and the second was social media and entertainment.

Piyada Donchalermpak, chief operating of Doctor Raksa, said that during the coronavirus crisis more people aged 50-60 are using the service. Female users account for 60% of the total.

Kanpassorn Suriyasangpetch, general manager of Ooca, an online psychological consulting service provider, said that when the outbreak took hold in March, service usage grew 20% week-to-week.

Telemedicine service will gain more momentum within four years as the outbreak speeds up adoption, she said.

"Thailand can consider adding telemedicine services as basic health welfare for citizens," Ms Kanpassorn said.

The Medical Council of Thailand has drafted a regulation to show official support for teleconsulting, but it has yet to be enforced.

Ooca has 100 out of about 1,000 psychologists in Thailand on its platform. Services are provided to both corporations (70% of clientele) and individuals (30%).

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