“Malaysia lags 5 to 10 years behind in telemedicine compared to countries like the United States, India and China,” said Maran Virumandi. DoctorOnCall(DOC) director and co-founder of the elderly interview.
DOC is one of the first Malaysian digital health platforms to offer online appointment reservations, drug deliveries, telehealth consultations, etc.
Maran added that, in addition to lagging behind in telemedicine, Malaysia lags behind other digital-based industries from regional players such as Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, in areas fintech, e-commerce and EVs, for example.
To help the growth of the Malaysian telemedicine industry, DOC wants to increase the reach and availability of such services by proposing public-private partnerships in digital healthcare.
Here’s how we can catch up
First, the Digital Economy Plan should recognize digital health as a key industry in Malaysia, Maran told the Vulcan Post. He suggested that a national digital health framework could be established for the development of qualified telemedicine services in dissemination at the regional and global levels.
In addition, a partnership between public and private digital health investments could reduce health care costs in the country, which can take up to 50% of the state budget.
“Therefore, through public-private partnerships, Malaysia can outperform our regional peers by adopting advanced technologies in digital healthcare with AI, IoT, big data analytics and blockchain,” Maran explained.
To explain the possibility of such collaboration, the team devised the DOCPod, a mobile clinic for access to poor and rural communities.
Adopting health care for patients
A pilot in Langkawi in 2019, the project was supported National technology for testing and innovation (NTIS) at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI).
Patients who visited the DOCPod were connected through IoT medical examinations that could check their BMI, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, among other things, in the field.
There they could also talk to doctors in health clinics via video or voice calls. If the patients had more serious diseases, they would be referred for physical examinations at the Kesihatan Clinic in Malaysia (KKM).
However, patients with chronic diseases usually need follow-up check-ups every few months, and many tend to be on bail, simply refilling their medications. This problem is further exacerbated when clinics are inaccessible, especially in rural areas.
Therefore, the DOC suggested that the DOCPod could bridge this gap by reviewing the patient’s vital values, paired with its virtual consultation. Furthermore, the DOC can also deliver medications to patients’ homes if needed.
Maran was an example that showed the possibilities of what public-private partnerships could look like. In the first quarter of 2021, DOCPod won 500 000 RM a grant from NTIS under MOSTI through the Malaysian Corporation for Technological Development (MTDC). Funding is planned to facilitate prototype design and construction, along with the implementation of marketing initiatives.
Roadblocks have diverted network traffic
Due to the limited movement of the pandemic, many patients are discouraged from attending physical examinations. This change was also reflected in the growth trends of DOC, which saw about 15 million users who visited its site in 2020. To date, the average monthly users of the platform (MAU) have grown from 600,000 in January 2020 to 2.5 million in January 2021
And the team also saw a change in customer requirements. Prior to COVID-19, the platform mainly provided basic telehealth and drug delivery. But when the pandemic broke out, more and more patients started looking for everything from special telehealth and appointment reservations to home COVID-19 tests.
“The Malaysian public has adapted very quickly to the new normal situation and we were lucky that the DoctorOnCall platform was ready to meet the surges of growth,” Maran shared.
“Honestly, we were pleasantly surprised to see our popularity grow, and statistics showed that approximately 76% of Malaysians began their health journey by researching online and social media.”
Among the most popular activities done through the platform were patients who checked their symptoms and reviewed drug and treatment prices.
Their proudest achievement from the pandemic? Signing with the Ministry of Health to establish an online scheduling system for the KKM network in the country. It was an initiative to reduce congestion in public clinics when social distancing was crucial among patients.
In addition, the DOC also helped the Ministry of Health to establish a virtual advisory portal to disclose any misinformation about COVID-19. “This medium is the first of its kind to be launched by the government in the region,” said Hazwan Najib, DOC co-founder and chief marketing officer, proudly.
- You can learn more about DoctorOnCall here.
- You can read more about our past reporting at DoctorOnCall here.
Credits for featured paintings: Maran Virumandi & Hazwan Najib, co-founders of DoctorOnCall / Pixels