Healthtech Startup Doctori Emerges To Offer Telemedicine Solutions In Bahrain
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With the COVID-19 crisis impacting all aspects of life as we know it today, nations around the world have been ramping up their use of tech to battle the pandemic, and there’s been a definite rise of healthtech players in response to our current circumstances. Born out of Bahrain is Doctori Online Services W.L.L., the first (and only, as of now) licensed telemedicine platform by the National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA) in the Kingdom that allows patients to speak to doctors via video consultations for non-urgent medical advice, get lab tests delivered, and receive prescriptions as well. The startup is also working with Bahrain’s 24-hour national hotline (444) created specifically to answer queries or report suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as the country’s Ministry of Health to provide COVID-19 patients with access to doctors for free.
Launched in April of this year, the startup was founded by CEO Ahmed Mahmood, who used to previously work at Bahrain Petroleum as a chemical engineer and has also delved into the entrepreneurial sphere by starting up F&B companies and a sports clothing e-commerce platform. Meanwhile, Ahmed Alawadhi, co-founder and COO, is a lawyer whose entrepreneurial experience includes starting up a company in the F&B sector. The idea for Doctori has been in their minds since 2014- they were studying in the UK then, and the duo found it difficult as students to reach a medical practitioner or a doctor.
They also found that international students faced problems connecting with their family doctors back home. This is when they looked into the extensive research on telemedicine. “The telemedicine market in Europe jumped from a US$5 billion market to a $50 billion market from 2011 to 2014,” says Alawadhi. In addition, according to research done by the European Commission and PwC in 2018, the market potential of telemedicine is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14% in the coming years. With stats like these backing them up, the entrepreneurs realized that telemedicine offers a huge opportunity for the MENA market as well, and thus set out to launch Doctori.
Upon Doctori’s launch, the co-founders say they received positive responses almost immediately. “We received calls from all over the GCC. Patients from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Oman became daily users. Doctors stuck abroad used Doctori as their virtual clinic to speak to their patients. Doctori became the main source of income to a number of doctors stuck abroad that could not reach their patients due to the COVID-19 crisis.” Besides offering their services to Bahrain’s emergency helpline free of charge for patients that have COVID-19 symptoms, patients can speak to doctors for free even during the weekends when the national helpline is off. According to Alawadhi, “Just one week after our launch, we received more consultations than 95% of private hospitals in a day.”
The co-founders say that the biggest challenge for Doctori on its road to getting launched was getting it approved by all of the requisite regulatory bodies in Bahrain. They solved this problem by not only obtaining a telemedicine license from the NHRA of Bahrain, but also helping in drafting, writing, and establishing the rules and regulations for telemedicine with the Ministry of Health and NHRA of Bahrain in 2019. “This is something we are really proud of, that we opened the door of telemedicine in Bahrain,” Alawadhi says. “This matter took us three years.” Today, the startup’s challenge is to figure out how to push other jurisdictions with no legal telemedicine infrastructures to draft new laws and regulations to support this sector. They’re finding success in this regard though- while the COVID-19 outbreak may have slowed their efforts in this department, the team has already started expanding to Saudi Arabia.
The startup has also collaborated with telecommunications companies like Zain and Batelco, plus commercial banks and companies like the National Bank of Bahrain to provide telemedicine services to their employees and customers, with a few of their partners including Al Salam Specialist Hospital, Bahrain Pharmacy, and Child Foundation Center. They also recently signed up to create an easier way for patients to receive their medications through delivery. Hospitals also contacted them to allow their doctors to use their platform, since the number of physical visits to hospitals has declined drastically. Doctori has so far got on board over 130 doctors ready to speak to patients, 60 hospitals and clinics, and over 30 companies to provide patients with telemedicine services. “We have also been in touch with the World Health Organization (WHO) for a potential collaboration in providing less fortunate countries with telemedicine services,” adds Alawadhi. Besides that, they are also working with social enterprise NomuHub to provide countries like Tanzania and Sri Lanka with telemedicine services.
With the app available on iOS and Android, patients can call their doctors, schedule virtual appointments, store medical records, receive prescriptions, request follow ups with doctors, and even receive consultation reports from the healthcare provider. Patients can receive not just primary care consultations, but secondary and tertiary care as well. The app also offers a platform wherein doctors and patients can have a virtual medical record system that is secure and confidential.
As for its business model, Doctori has four main sources of revenue. First, is through telemedicine, wherein they receive a percentage from every video consultation, and next is through bookings, as they receive a monthly fee from clinics and hospitals for physical visits arrangements. They also earn a commission from pharmaceuticals for every medication prescribed and bought using the platform, plus through a B2B avenue as they provide large commercial organizations with tablets to allow their employees to speak to doctors without leaving company premises.
Entering the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the midst of a global pandemic may be a challenge, but the co-founders view it as a blessing for a telemedicine platform such as Doctori. However, they point out that it is extremely important for such businesses not to have their business models reliant on a pandemic. “The COVID-19 [crisis] will end, and people will go back to physical consultations,” Alawadhi reminds.
“Entrepreneurs should always ensure that their business models are pandemic-proof, in the same way way that if an unforeseen event like the COVID-19 strikes [again], it does not affect their business.” And for entrepreneurs looking at opportunities in Bahrain’s healthtech industry, Alawadhi feels that the next biggest opportunity is in homecare. “Homecare is literally providing the logistics to allow doctors to visit patients at home. The market for homecare will grow tremendously, and we at Doctori are working on a model for homecare.”
As for their future plans, the co-founders reveal that they will soon integrate artificial intelligence to the platform to allow doctors to understand patients’ diseases by only reading their medical reports. The team plans to “blitzscale to different regions,” with the first aim being the KSA market. “It is easier to jump into countries like Saudi Arabia or the UAE, where telemedicine regulations are not primitive. The Egyptian market is definitely on our plan for 2021. We will be willing to take bigger risks and jump into ambiguous markets like Indonesia and Pakistan to take advantage of the rise in digital awareness in a highly populated country.”