SINGAPORE – As the pandemic brought the world to a standstill in 2020, virtual alternatives for all human activities started becoming more mainstream. In Singapore, healthcare delivery through the internet saw a big push that year with deals worth more than $1 billion going through.
One platform that has emerged as a big player in virtual health services is Good Doctor Technology (GDT). Started in Indonesia in 2018 and headquartered in Singapore, the company is a collaboration between world’s largest telemedicine provider Ping An Group of China, Southeast Asian superapp Grab from Singapore and Japanese multinational Softbank’s Vision Fund. It has operations in Indonesia and Thailand, and has plans to expand into other Asian markets soon.
Impact of Pandemic
Talking about how the pandemic resulted in an accelerated rate of adoption for telemedicine, regional CEO of GDT Melvin Vu informed that there was a six-fold increase in the average active user growth in Indonesia alone for GrabHealth and Good Doctor standalone platforms over the last couple of years. “In fact, between wave 1 and wave 2, we saw an average increase of 700% in COVID-19 related consults. Likewise in Thailand, we saw a similar trend with double the amount of COVID+ patients consulting with our doctors during the Omicron wave compared to the previous delta wave,” he adds.
The numbers, he believes, are a clear indication of the steadily growing acceptance of and familiarity with digital health services among people. The pandemic gave many people the opportunity to try telemedicine services for the first time, and with more positive experiences with virtual consultation platforms, he feels. His optimism, however, comes with a dash of mindfulness about the possibility of people treating telemedicine as a pandemic novelty, necessitated by the restrictions put in place.
Melvin argues that in the post-pandemic world, telemedicine can help in improving proactive management and medical support of patients with existing conditions. The top two non-communicable diseases in Southeast Asia – hypertension and diabetes – require chronic care management, he points out.
“With continued use of telemedicine, such patients can be better guided on how to monitor their conditions carefully and avoid further complications. It also provides patients with the opportunity to receive health advice in terms of their general well being,” he feels. Especially with the huge possibility of Work From Home arrangements becoming a permanent fixture of corporate life, employers could even offer health management tools to employees, he states.
He also acknowledges the need for public education initiatives to make the consumers see these benefits, saying that a wider adoption could help the industry unlock many of its untapped potentials. The company has already started working towards this direction, collaborating with several brands and institutions in both Indonesia and Thailand. While some campaigns are disease specific, others are related to trending wellness fads. They are also running educational programmes directed at B2B stakeholders to increase mindshare of telemedicine and organisational health management.
Good Doctor at Work
GDT can be attributed some credit for the digitisation of the healthcare industry in Southeast Asia, Melvin believes. “We did this by implementing our learnings and best practices from our parent company across the region,” he says.
In both Indonesia and Thailand, the company has supported the local governments and healthcare authorities in harnessing the benefits of telemedicine and virtual healthcare services during the pandemic. They have also participated in the home or self isolation programmes by increasing the accessibility of doctors to COVID positive patients and delivering critical healthcare services to them at speed.
The company recently conducted a pilot study on Chronic Care Management (CCM) among patients living with diabetes, which was endorsed by the Indonesian Medical Association (Ikatan Dokter Indonesia) Research Group. It has also collaborated with various stakeholders and industry leaders in the country’s vaccination drive with centres set up across 18 cities where over 200,000 people have been administered covid vaccines. It even provided over 1 million of our users with timely COVID-19 medical resources available through their app, which was specially curated by their in-house doctors. It became the first company to spearhead industry conversations about the value that telemedicine brings to diabetes management in the public domain.
GDT is proud of their team consisting of full time, local medical professionals who are well trained in using their specialised consultation system to deliver excellent standards of virtual care. With dedicated in-house doctors, it can ensure that the patient care standards can be upheld and maintained in every country the services are deployed in. The platform’s features are compatible with mass-market smartphone models, and not dependent on high-bandwidth mobile connectivity.
“With the varied levels of connectivity across Southeast Asia, we chose to deliver our services through text-based formats. This aligns with our mission of providing one doctor for every family across the region. We always strive to stay at the forefront of R&D around telemedicine use in the new normal by spearheading industry discussions and driving timely research initiatives to uncover new use cases of telemedicine in the post-pandemic era,” states Melvin.
Their regional headquarters (RHQ) based in Singapore will soon establish a centre of excellence, innovation and knowledge hub approach. It will aim to cultivate best-in-industry practices and bring tried-and-tested approaches from their parent companies and implement them in all countries they serve.
In order to achieve their ambition of one doctor per family, GDT is working towards democratising the access to doctors by unlocking the advances of digital health technologies by putting users in the driving seat in managing their health. They would look to expand operations in other countries in the region.
The centre of excellence planned in Singapore will be a special focus in the company’s future plans. “We will double down on our research capabilities by increasing their headcount resources by 50% over the next three years. We wish to attract passionate talents with cross-industry experiences beyond the healthcare and technology sectors,” informs Melvin. The plan also includes fostering deeper relationships with Singapore’s leading research and education institutions to shift perceptions about the impact of digital healthcare services in managing accessibility gaps in primary healthcare across SEA.
The company believes Singapore is extremely well placed to be positioned as a regional medical hub for SEA. “Being strategically situated in Singapore with strong government advocacies around incorporating smart healthcare management capabilities, GDT also wishes to tap on the nation’s well established position within the medtech industry to gain a vantage point of the future of healthcare innovation,” he reveals.
He believes that the country’s well-developed healthcare and R&D ecosystem make it an ideal location to try new systems. By growing regional resources, he thinks that the company can fulfill its aim to re-imagine the future of healthcare in SEA by championing digital-first approaches to address underlying accessibility gaps in primary healthcare services.