It is no secret that working at a startup means facing new challenges and surprises every day. And yet, nothing could have prepared us for the impact of COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, and Singapore went into a two-month nationwide lockdown, we knew it was the opportunity for us to step up to the challenge and contribute to the national effort.
Scaling up rapidly to deliver telehealth services to workers
Our first challenge came in supporting the health of 300,000 migrant workers, who were locked down in their dormitories during the circuit breaker (CB).
In early 2020, Doctor Anywhere started providing teleconsultation services, inclusive of same-day medication delivery, to migrant workers staying in dormitories. When the service was first introduced, demand was low as workers could visit a physical clinic or an on-site medical centre in their dormitory.
However, this changed when CB began.
“Initially, it had just been two of us doing the consultations on an ad hoc basis,” shares Dr Yang Guirong, Assistant Medical Director at Doctor Anywhere. “With the increased demand, we had to change our processes to sustainably serve all the workers. We assembled a team of 10 doctors to work on this almost full-time, along with a separate administrative team, and had multiple DA clinics to package and deliver their medication.”
Additionally, due to the type of mobile devices workers owned and connectivity issues, we had to tweak our service delivery. Instead of a video call over the Doctor Anywhere app, our doctors conducted their consultations over WhatsApp or phone calls.
Communicating over WhatsApp had a silver lining. Although most workers had a basic grasp of English, there was still a small language barrier between doctor and patient.
With conversations over text, the patients could rely on language translation apps or fellow workers who had a better command of English for translation.
Another group of workers who needed telehealth support were seafarers working onboard ships. Given the international climate then, these seafarers were facing challenges in flying back to their countries after completing their job assignments.
From June 2020, we partnered with MPA to issue “Fit-to-Fly” certificates to facilitate their return home. With these certificates, our seafarer friends were allowed to fly back to their countries and reunite with their family members.
Since this began in June 2020, we have served more than 1,400 seafarers.
Filling in the gaps in Singapore’s healthcare system during Circuit Breaker and beyond
During CB, most residents were uncomfortable with visiting the clinic, even if they were feeling unwell. This was an opportunity to demonstrate how Doctor Anywhere’s services complemented Singapore’s existing healthcare infrastructure.
Since the start of 2020, we started enhancing our service delivery by ensuring tech and security infrastructure were ready to scale. Most crucially, we installed additional safeguards to ensure patient confidentiality and privacy, as we continued to expand our services.
We also moved towards utilising API management software, as our services required us to process more than two million API calls each month. As traffic to the Doctor Anywhere app grew by 70 per cent during COVID-19, this proved key to ensuring a smooth user experience, despite the increased system load. It also freed up time from managing individual APIs so that we could focus on the real work of improving our product.
Doctor Anywhere utilises a multi-cloud data environment for data management. The breadth of our services meant that several data sources, such as physical and virtual consultation databases, had to be integrated for any useful user insights.
With the cloud data warehouse, fragmented data sources were seamlessly combined into a coherent representation of our users.
Harnessing the power of ML and AI, we could then delve deep into this data for an in-depth analysis of user behaviour. This enabled us to quickly identify services that needed to be improved, as well as new pain points that were emerging.
These data-driven insights were complemented with qualitative observations – whether through user surveys or conversations with partners. With this foundation, we were thus able to swiftly scale up and develop new features like online clinics, wellness subscription programmes, home-based health screening and vaccination packages, mobile doctor and nursing services, etc.
For example: During CB, we noticed an increase in consultations for stress-related issues, such as insomnia. This was unsurprising, given the intense stress brought on by the pandemic.
To investigate further, we conducted a user survey in June 2020, in which our users (particularly aged 18 to 34) shared that they were receptive to therapy over video-call for conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety.
This prompted us to launch the Mental Wellness module in October 2020, where users could seek support from licensed psychologists and counsellors discretely via video call. We also embarked on a unique marketing campaign, using relatable local anecdotes and engaging visuals to educate the public on mental health.
In addition to video consultations, Doctor Anywhere runs eight clinics around the island. We revamped our clinics for a better customer experience. This included overhauling hiring processes and refreshing operational procedures, such as our courier delivery system.
“A memorable incident was the move of one of our medication operations to a new, more suitable location. It had to be done overnight to avoid impacting existing operations in the day. About 10 of us started at 9 PM and we only finished at 8 AM, the next day. Right after that, we began our 24/7 medication delivery services!” reminisces Dr Yang, who spearheaded this project. “It certainly was challenging but was definitely worth it.”
The result: by early 2021, we could offer round-the-clock telehealth consultations, with a three-hour medication delivery time throughout the year.
In addition to our clinics, we also have a mobile medical team that carries out home-based services. This includes health screenings, vaccinations and home nursing services. Time-saving and convenient, the biggest benefit of these services is that it cuts down on unnecessary trips to the clinic or hospital for our users.
Raising the health literacy of Singaporeans
As we know, the adage “If you build it, they will come” has been disproven many times. Similarly, while our services were ready, we knew it was important to build greater consumer confidence and trust in telehealth.
Even in early 2020, telehealth was still a new concept to most Singaporeans. As such, alongside the scaling up of our services, we concentrated on specific offline and online marketing campaigns, to highlight conditions and use cases where telemedicine is useful. Most poignantly, the convenience to see a doctor for acute and non-critical conditions without going into a clinic was a key benefit during CB.
This was particularly helpful for patients with stabilised chronic health conditions. These patients required regular doctor consultations to check on their health status and refill their medication prescriptions. Yet, during CB, many were hesitant to physically visit a doctor.
The DA app allowed these patients to fulfil their routine health check-ups with a doctor and refill their medication, with same-day delivery. This empowered patients to remain in control of their medical conditions, while also allaying their fears of physical doctor visits. As a testament to the value of our services, we saw a multiple-times increase in consultations from patients with chronic conditions during this period.
Building on our growth for the future
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge us to be more agile and adaptable in our operations while keeping our users at the heart of what we do. What has been key to our efforts is the selflessness of our team, who step in to cover for each other whenever we need an extra pair of hands.
Since 2020, we have seen a five times growth in the usage of Doctor Anywhere’s services. We expect that as more Singaporeans grow accustomed to telehealth services and recognise the convenience that it brings, the usage of digital healthcare platforms will gradually become a more ingrained lifestyle habit.
Beyond Singapore, Doctor Anywhere also has a regional presence in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of telehealth in the healthcare ecosystem, by about five years by our estimate.
As each market faces its own unique challenges in navigating through the pandemic, it is critical that our teams keep a close ear on the ground, and continue to innovate and refine our products to meet each market’s needs. Establishing regional tech hubs in Singapore, Vietnam, and India in early 2021 is one strategic move to ensure that DA continues to scale and develop innovative solutions effectively.
“Our mission is to be the largest tech-enabled omnichannel healthcare provider in Southeast Asia,” says Wai Mun Lim, founder and CEO of Doctor Anywhere. “Tech-enabling offline businesses are also a key component of our strategy. This is also how we differentiate ourselves from competitors, and one of the key reasons our investors invested in us.”
More than just a medical app that connects patients to doctors, Doctor Anywhere is evolving to become an integral lifestyle platform. We blur the lines between traditional healthcare and alternative wellness solutions, to offer holistic, 360-degree health and wellness support to our users at every stage of their lives.
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Image Credit: Doctor Anywhere
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