"Malaysia is 5 to 10 years behind in telemedicine compared to countries like the US, India and China," said Maran Virumandi, managing director and co-founder of DoctorOnCall (DOC), in an earlier interview.
DOC is one of the first digital health platforms in Malaysia to offer online appointment booking, drug delivery, telemedicine advice, etc.
Maran added that Malaysia, among other delays in telemedicine, is falling behind in other digital-based industries from regional players such as Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam in areas such as fintech, e-commerce and electric vehicles.
To support the growth of the telemedicine industry in Malaysia, DOC aims to improve the reach and accessibility of such services by proposing public-private partnerships in the field of digital health.
Here's how we can catch up
For one, the Digital Economy Blueprint should recognize digital health as a key industry in Malaysia, Maran told Vulcan Post. He suggested that a National Digital Health Sandbox could also be set up to build qualified telemedicine services for regional and global expansion.
In addition, partnerships between public and private investments in digital health could lower the country's health care costs, which can represent up to 50% of the country's budget.
"Through public-private partnerships, Malaysia can overtake our regional counterparts by introducing advanced digital healthcare technologies with AI, IoT, big data analytics and blockchain," said Maran.
To illustrate the possibility of such collaborations, the team developed DOCPod, a mobile clinic for access to needy and rural communities.
Bringing healthcare to the patient
Patients can have their vital signs checked in the DOCPod / Image Credit: DoctorOnCall
The project was piloted in Langkawi in 2019 and supported by the National Technology & Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI).
Patients who visited DOCPod were connected through IoT health exams, which included BMI, blood pressure, glucose level, and other on-site diagnoses.
There they could also speak to doctors in public health clinics by video or voice calls. If patients had more serious illnesses, they would be referred for physical exams at the Kesihatan Malaysia (KKM) clinic.
However, patients with chronic diseases typically require follow-up visits every few months, and many tend to go on bail simply by refilling their medication instead. This problem is exacerbated when clinics are inaccessible, especially in rural areas.
Therefore, DOC suggested that DOCPod could fill this void by examining patient vital signs along with its virtual consultations. In addition, DOC can also deliver medication to patients' homes if required.
It was the example Maran provided to show the possibilities of what public-private partnerships could look like. In the first quarter of 2021, DOCPod received a grant of 500,000 RM from NTIS as part of MOSTI through the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC). Funding is planned to facilitate prototype design and construction, as well as running marketing initiatives.
Roadblocks rerouted traffic online
Due to the restricted mobility of the pandemic, many patients have been prevented from attending physical exams. This change was also reflected in DOC's growth trends, with around 15 million users visiting the site in 2020. To date, the monthly average users (MAU) of the platform have increased from 600,000 in January 2020 to 2.5 million in January 2021.
And the team has also noticed a shift in customer requirements. Prior to COVID-19, the platform primarily enabled the delivery of telemedicine and medication. But as the pandemic broke out, more and more patients were looking for everything from specialized telemedicine and appointment bookings to COVID-19 tests at home.
"The Malaysian public has adapted very quickly to the new normal and we were fortunate that DoctorOnCall's platform was ready to accommodate the growth spurts," said Maran.
"In all fairness, we were pleasantly surprised that our popularity increased, and the statistics showed that approximately 76% of Malaysians started their health journey through online research and social media."
Popular activities conducted through the platform included patients reviewing their symptoms and browsing drug and treatment prices.
Your proudest achievement from the pandemic? Signed with the MOH to set up an online appointment system for the country's KKM network. It was an initiative to reduce congestion in public clinics when social distancing was crucial in patients.
In addition, DOC helped the MOH set up a virtual health advice portal to expose any misinformation about COVID-19. "This medium is the first of its kind to be initiated by a government in the region," said Hazwan Najib, DOC co-founder and chief marketing officer, proudly.
- You can find more information about DoctorOnCall here.
- Read more about our coverage so far Doctor on call Here.
Selected image source: Maran Virumandi & Hazwan Najib, co-founders of DoctorOnCall / Pexels