Doctorola was founded by four close friends who wanted to address the highly chaotic situation in the healthcare sector—poor accessibility and the underlying flaws in the institutional management triggering this problem. People living in places beyond the major cities face tremendous troubles in finding the right doctor at the right time and subsequently fail to secure proper treatment when they need it.
The idea of Doctorola evolved into a service platform in early 2014. Back then, it was only a doctor's directory along with a feature for appointment requests. But their whole vision was revisited soon after they realised that they also needed to build and maintain relationships with the patients and doctors to ensure smoother connection. Newer features were added and the whole platform was now being extended in the back end. Since the official launching in October 2015, Doctorola is operating in full capacity with its quick and easy-to-use website backed by a sophisticated call centre and integrated processes.
The team came up with a three-step strategy to make obtaining treatment better and faster. Their first goal was to build awareness among common people in order to prevent delay in recognising the need for treatment. The delay is mainly due to a serious lack of awareness about the signs, symptoms, and consequences of diseases as well as the lack of proper guidance. Doctorola is continuously creating and disseminating content to tap into this problem. They run medical campaigns on a monthly basis in major cities like Dhaka and Chittagong. The startup has a very active Facebook page that engages users through live content, blogs and instant responses to medical queries. Moreover, they have also signed up with radio programmes that will soon be conducted by doctors from their network.
The second step was meant to guide patients to the right doctor at the right time in the nearest location so that the troublesome journey to major cities like Dhaka could be avoided. People typically look for or are directed to a handful of nationally renowned doctors whose appointments are obviously tough to obtain. The CEO, Mohammad Emon, says,“We create value by connecting patients to the right doctor, not by ensuring that a hard-to-get appointment is easily obtained.” Thus, Doctorola came up with a service platform that currently hosts information and appointment facilities for more than 7,000 doctors from 437 hospitals and consultation centers in 58 districts.
In the third and final stage, Doctorola proactively supports patients with follow-up appointments so that the full process is complete. They are also in the process of adding discount offers on diagnoses and other services to further encourage them to properly complete their treatment.
The CEO, Mohammad Emon, says, "We create value by connecting patients to the right doctor, not by ensuring that a hard-to-get appointment is easily obtained.” Thus, Doctorola came up with a service platform that currently hosts information and appointment facilities for more than 7,000 doctors from 437 hospitals and consultation centers in 58 districts."
A BUMPY ROAD
A countrywide online platform offering services even to rural outskirts is anything but easy to execute. They had a tough time incentivising doctors and persuading them to jointly work toward making the general public's lives easier. Some top-class doctors are still sceptical to get on board.
Another major challenge is communicating effectively with mass people. As the CEO explains, “Above-the-line communication space is highly dominated by telecommunications and FMCG ads, so positioning our service through that medium is tremendously challenging and costly. Hence, we had to opt for engagement-based communication in specific segments: around 250 promoters are physically running campaigns countrywide. We are mostly self-funded and only have a small corporate investment, besides being the first Bangladeshi startup to raise venture capital. But our investment from BD Venture has indeed given our initiative some speed. However, all of it together is still not enough to communicate on an impactful scale.”
Doctorola is currently handling medical requests of three types. One category involves those who seek appointments of specific top-notch doctors. If they are not on-board, alternative doctors within the required domain are suggested. The second category of patients are those unaware of the specialty area for the medical case, e.g. whether a child needs to see a paediatric neurologist or a paediatric pulmonologist. For the third category of patients, those do not know what doctor they need, there is a junior-level doctor at the call centre and on the Facebook page to guide them. Partner NGOs and private organisations also forward their cases to Doctorola.
THE LONG TERM
Doctorola is open to vigorous competition in their domain, as new players in the market positively contribute to the bigger goal of strengthening people's trust in this service instead of eroding it. “We are even ready to collaborate with newcomers as well as help them grow so long as the competitive force drives the industry forward. But we do need to have a deep pocket to survive in the long run,” confesses Emon.
A preliminary target of Doctorola is to escalate the appointment-handling capacity to 30,000 per day in five years. Big plans include tying with insurance companies in the near future, building a successful referral network in Bangladesh for medical treatment, as well as introducing a thorough feedback system. They also wish to expand globally to countries similar to Bangladesh, once they get a hold of things here.
The writer is a sophomore at the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka