Doctor Anywhere – The key to success amid the pandemic

September 23, 2021 | 12:35
Telehealth is emerging as a channel for healthcare with the growing involvement of medtech startups. Le Ngoc Hai, CEO of Doctor Anywhere Vietnam, talked to VIR’s Bich Thuy about the company's way to improve people’s access to medical care during the pandemic and its plans after a successful Series C financing round.
Doctor Anywhere – The key to success amid the pandemic
Le Ngoc Hai, CEO of Doctor Anywhere Vietnam

How has Doctor Anywhere Vietnam been performing since early 2020, and what has changed during the pandemic?

In early 2020, the Doctor Anywhere app started gaining some traction in the local corporate world, thanks to our strategic partnership with Bao Minh Insurance.

We have been aggressively expanding our digital healthcare ecosystem ever since, from onboarding more doctors, more allied hospitals, and clinics to partnering with more payment providers.

Hence, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across Vietnam, we were already well-equipped to provide the best support to Vietnamese people whose demand for telemedicine increased by 2-3 times.

Besides our core specialities namely GP, nutrition, paediatrics, and ear-nose-throat, Doctor Anywhere opened an exclusive COVID-19 advisory module during the pandemic. This module is designed to support patients and their families 24/7, totally free of charge, using a team of doctors who have first-hand experience in treating COVID-19 patients in public or field hospitals.

We also improved our medication delivery coverage beyond our current hubs, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and also implemented a free delivery policy to help Vietnamese people stay safe and healthy at home during social distancing periods. As a healthcare service provider, we understand our responsibility to the community in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.

In short, Doctor Anywhere will do everything to the best of our ability, harnessing the power of technology, to improve the healthcare experience in Vietnam.

We were humbled and motivated to see that we were able to help many Vietnamese people during this challenging time. The number of users and partners has increased significantly over the last one and a half years. The figures for new signups and downloads increased two-fold per month. From as low as 10-20 consultations made at the beginning of 2020, we were serving around 200 customers in early 2021. For the last two months, when the COVID-19 pandemic was most devastating, the number of consultations has doubled, on our busiest days, it could surge to over 500 calls.

Doctor Anywhere has received a lot of positive feedback from our customers. They not only come back to use our services several times but also refer our ecosystem to their friends and family. Some even introduce Doctor Anywhere to their business partners. This recognition is the strongest testament of our dedication to service excellence and with that, we are more motivated than ever to carry on our mission of transforming the healthcare landscape in Vietnam.

What are the most valuable lessons Doctor Anywhere Vietnam learned from COVID-19? What is the key to your success during COVID-19?

Many might think that Doctor Anywhere benefited from the pandemic, especially after the successful Series C fundraising. We never thought of the word “success” during this tragic time, we just wanted to play our part to help Vietnamese people, as much as we can.

Like many other businesses, we had to go through lots of challenges resulting from COVID-19. Our main offline activities such as health talks, onboarding events, health screening, and even medication delivery were impacted negatively during this prolonged social distancing period.

Using technology, we were able to transform quickly to adapt.

Instead of organising face-to-face events, health talks and onboarding events have been conducted in webinar form, yet still remaining informative and interactive. In August, Doctor Anywhere successfully carried out more than 50 health webinars for corporates’ customers.

Our medical team, taking strict reference to the most recent guidelines of the Ministry of Health, has also compiled several COVID 19 related handbooks tailoring for the COVID-19 patients and caregivers, published on the internet, free of charge.

The COVID-19 advisory module I mentioned before was exclusively launched in Vietnam after only three days of preparation work.

Our sweat and tears were paid off with heartening responses from our customers, as well as the sight of their gradual recovery as they proactively handle COVID-19 symptoms at home following the info kits, together with the thorough guidance from doctors on our app.

Doctor Anywhere – The key to success amid the pandemic
Doctor Anywhere - doctoranywhere.vn

Other than that, to meet the rising demand, our team has been actively expanding the network of doctors from reputed public hospitals across the country. The number of doctors has increased by 150 per cent in the past three months.

Not wanting to rely entirely on delivery partners, we have recruited our own in-house shippers to avoid disruption and delay to our medication delivery service, limiting the impacts of the pandemic. We also made an effort to enhance the online pharmacy channels with greater coverage beyond Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and free medication delivery policies to help Vietnamese people to stay safe and healthy at home.

Doctor Anywhere has closed a successful Series C financing round. What do you think about the investment trend in healthcare startups in Vietnam and Southeast Asia?

According to a forecast from Fitch Solutions, expenditures on healthcare in Vietnam will reach $23 billion in 2022, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 10.7 per cent, regardless of the effects of COVID-19. As a matter of fact, even before the pandemic, the healthcare sector in Vietnam secured highly potential growth thanks to important factors such as large population and favourable policies from the government.

The population of Vietnam ranks second in Southeast Asia, together with the rapid growth of the young and middle-class. Accessibility as well as quality are two important factors when these people consider using healthcare services.

Additionally, for the past few years, the authorities have intensively allocated resources to the development of public health infrastructure, as well as applied and reformed legal frameworks to encourage participation from private sectors. As a result, more and more private and international investors are interested to join this thriving field. Advanced technology not only allows remote treatment but also contributes significant changes in administration procedures: less paperwork, less physical storages, better health record management, and accessibility for both patients and medical facilities. It is the right time for us to make changes to transform the healthcare landscape with the help of technology, especially in the rise of the 4.0 digital era, when more people are looking for more innovative solutions for their healthcare needs.

Never did we consider the pandemic as a business opportunity. However, the reality is that COVID-19 has changed the view of many people on the benefits and necessity of telehealth. Virtual consultations are time saving, highly accessible when people can connect to licensed doctors anywhere, any time. It is not only time-saving for those who work 9 to 5 but also reduces cross-infection.

In Vietnam, other than Doctor Anywhere, many startups and corporations are getting huge interests and investments from well-known multinationals, financial institutions, and top investment funds, both locally and internationally. Besides, local medical facilities, hospitals have caught up with the current trend and invested more resources in applying technology to healthcare services.

How will the financing support the operation of Doctor Anywhere Vietnam in the future? Will it have any changes in its operation strategy?

The Series C funding round has been a strong launch pad for us to continue to focus on human resources, improve and develop the Doctor Anywhere digital ecosystem, and ceaselessly upgrade the quality of services to ensure the best user experience. Doctor Anywhere Vietnam will use this financial support to invest effectively in infrastructure as well as expand our presence in provinces and cities outside of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Apart from that, we plan to conduct vertical mergers and acquisitions to diversify services, improve our capability to align with the group's vision of become the leading tech-led omnichannel healthcare provider in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

Looking at a nearer horizon, we target a significant growth of coverage and greater product and service capability in Vietnam. But nonetheless, at the heart of our operation, Doctor Anywhere will never forget our responsibility to devote and contribute more to the community by delivering timely health consultations, as well as home care services for COVID-19 patients. Adapting to the "new normal" and "living in harmony with COVID-19", Doctor Anywhere team as well as our specialised doctors commit to put all our resources to develop and become a reliable healthcare destination for everyone. Doctor Anywhere is also pleased to share about one of our future projects: DA Blanc, a sub-brand of Doctor Anywhere focusing on customised healthcare services, a pioneer product to be officially launched in Vietnam by the end of 2021.

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By Bich Thuy

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