Technology

Telehealth seen to decongest PH healthcare system

MEDIFI CEO and Co-founder Jay Fajardo says telehealth will democratize access to doctors.
MEDIFI CEO and Co-founder Jay Fajardo says telehealth will democratize access to doctors.

With people forced to stay home, many Filipinos are now relying on online consultations with doctors. Because of this, the COVID-19 pandemic might prove to be the tipping point for the Philippines to embrace telehealth.

“For non-urgent medical needs, telehealth offers a real way to decongest the country’s healthcare system and provides huge convenience to the patient. It has also become a welcome economic benefit for our doctors who have found a new venue to continue their practice,” MEDIFI CEO and Co-founder Jay Fajardo told Digital Life Asia.

Necessity is the mother of invention

MEDIFI is one of the tech startups helping Filipinos cope with the enhanced community quarantine. It is a telehealth platform that allows people to consult with a licensed doctor online for non-emergency health concerns. The site has two components. MEDIFI for Patients lets people consult remotely, while MEDIFI for Doctors allows doctors to take their practice online. MEDIFI for Patients is also available as an app that can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.

MEDIFI has been around since 2015, and was actually born of necessity.

“My co-founder, Freddy Gonzalez, who was then still playing professional soccer with Manila-based Meralco Sparks, was seeing a San Francisco-based physician for a sports injury he had incurred in a game. Naturally, the cost and logistical implications of geographical distance made it quite difficult to conduct recurring consults with the clinic for both pre-surgery and post-surgery consultations. Freddy thought that translating the traditional medical consultation experience to an online one would be the perfect way to connect patients and doctors, while eliminating the limits of physical travel. That’s when the idea of an online remote consultation platform was born,” Fajardo shared.

In a sense, however, MEDIFI was born ahead of its time. Fajardo said 2015 was an early time to launch a telehealth platform, whether in the Philippines or globally.

“To make matters worse, any telehealth solution was naturally met with skepticism because of the very nature of medical practice. Doctors are highly risk-averse when it comes to introducing any change into their practice. They immediately see it as an unnecessary incremental risk. COVID-19 and the quarantine changed that,” he said.

Rising to the occasion

MEDIFI was in the middle of a closed beta for its second version when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“We were suddenly commissioned into public use mid-March. Doctors in our network started asking if we were ready to go live. Since then, our doctors have grown from 45 to 2,300 (a growth of 5,000 percent), and our patients have grown from 300 to 13,000 (a growth of 4,200 percent). Our consultations have now reached over 1,800 per month from only 5 to 10 during our beta run which started late last year,” Fajardo said.

MEDIFI is optimizing the platform to support the massive growth of users, as well as rolling out new features.

“A lot of the work happens under the hood as we beef up the underlying architecture to improve the audio/video consultations and the asynchronous consultations/chats. We’ve also been very busy releasing micro features as we continuously improve the overall MEDIFI service offering,” he said.

Fajardo said in the next few weeks they will introduce additional file formats for media shared between patients and doctors. Other new features include lab requests, additional payment channels such as GCash and PayMaya, and support for third party payors.

Telehealth in post-pandemic world

The COVID-19 crisis will reshape the world for years to come. As we have seen, the pandemic is accelerating digital transformation. Moreover, people are already adapting to the new normal. As such, they will expect these changes to continue, including the option to work from home.

“Because of telehealth, among other verticals that have adapted to a remote-only business environment, the post-ECQ economy will largely be dominated by a digitally comfortable market, equipped to transact in digital currency, and biased towards the offerings of the on-demand economy,” Fajardo said.

“Our regional neighbors have been comfortable with telehealth for a few years already. It’s about time for the Philippines to adopt it as a means to alleviate the country’s overloaded healthcare system and democratise access to doctors,” he added.

How about you? Are you ready to embrace telehealth?