“Need a doctor? We’ll help you find one.”
Doctorola.com, an initiative that revolves around such a commitment came into existence in the early part of 2015. Its one-of-a-kind website helps to bridge the gap between doctors and patients who don’t have easy access to medication due to the unavailability of proper medical services around them. Mohammad Abdul Matin Emon, CEO of Doctorola, spoke with IBT about his vision to revolutionize the healthcare system through this online platform.
What drove you to create a health sector based startup?
Finding a health based startup, founded by someone who isn’t an expert in the medical field is quite uncommon. Thus, having to answer such a question is pretty natural. However, I would like the mention that initially our platform wasn’t about managing medical services. It was more of a business idea I had about opening my own business using my learnings from the corporate world.
I had my core competencies in the IT and strategic management sectors so our initial focus was on IT based solutions that would create employment opportunities in the market. This initial initiative was called ‘Oployee’, meaning online employee. However, due to our financial limitations we later realized that such an endeavor was too ambitious for us at the time. This made us refocus our resources and efforts towards our other priority – healthcare. We knew that healthcare was another sector whose online potential was untapped. We identified two key problems – firstly, the lack of high-quality medical services and secondly, the management of existing services. The first problem was again too wide for us to focus on so we decided to create a medium for managing medical services and linking the doctors to their potential patients. This helped overcome barriers such as distance, lack of knowledge about the availability of medical services and proper guidance regarding medication and which doctor to go to.
We started off by creating a directory of doctors then we reached out to them with our idea. We did not contact the public sector as we felt the private sector had more of an incentive to work with us. The service that we started off with was providing doctor appointments to patients but with the passing of time, we are gradually adding more services to our list.
Can you tell us about the story behind finding potential investors?
During the initial bootstrapping phase, we invested on our own. We made sure we had a business which was running by adding an adequate amount of doctors to our list and making a set of databases of patients and doctors to prove what we were doing was worth investing in. We then approached a few investors with an active business which was highly scalable. Many of them found the concept lucrative and we finally got our first venture capital investment within the first ten months of operation in September 2015.
WE HAVE BEEN ENGAGING OUR AUDIENCE BY POSTING NEW HEALTH BLOGS EVERY DAY, WRITTEN BY CERTIFIED DOCTORS FOR THE PAST TWO AND HALF YEARS AND HAVE RECORDED MORE THAN 250 MEDICAL VIDEOS FEATURING PRACTICING DOCTORS, SENIOR SURGEONS, PROFESSORS AND SO ON.”
What kind of marketing strategies has Doctorola.com been adopting so far?
At Doctorola, we believe that knowledge is the key to success. Therefore, our marketing strategies exist with a vision to increase our stakeholders by spreading awareness. We have close to nine lac followers on our Facebook page, amongst which three lac people actively communicate with us on a regular basis. We have been engaging our audience by posting new health blogs every day, written by certified doctors for the past two and half years and have recorded more than 250 medical videos featuring practicing doctors, senior surgeons, professors and so on. Our daily activities work in a two-way method by helping us spread awareness and also by building trust which is very necessary for the longevity of the business.
Our next step was to establish touch points or channels, through which Doctorola could reach out to its target market. From the information published by the DGHS (Directorate General of Health Services), we figured out that almost 60% of the patients go to pharmacies and other unqualified providers in need of medical services. Thus, we thought to engage with the pharmacies and motivate them in referring patients to proper doctors for advices. With this objective, we got engaged with more than 4000 pharmacies in 63 districts. They all now represent Doctorola, and book appointments for their customers today.
We’ve also partnered up with other organization such as NGOs, banks, insurance companies and so on who mention Doctorola.com to their clients and provide them services from Doctorola, which also include discounts on various medical services countrywide.
Apart from our online mediums such as Facebook, mobile app, andwebsite, we also have a call center through which almost 60% of the appointments get booked. As a part of our strategy, we also try to collaborate with other businesses that provide similar services as we believe this to be a great way of achieving new competencies at Doctorola. As far as examples are concerned Telenor Health is one of those companies on our list.
What are your social media strategies?
Our social media strategies include posting health tips, health blogs and live medical shows on Facebook that help us increase our reach. So, far our Live sessions are the most popular among our social media activities, encouraged by which, we have plans of introducing a separate brand called Doctorola.tv.
What sort of difficulties did you face in the initial phase and how well did you deal with them?
It is always difficult to convey the potential of a new idea to the stakeholders, initially. We started off with a set of only nineteen doctors, which was obviously not adequate if we needed to thrive over the long. Due to this, after three and a half months of operation, we started approaching hospitals. We tried convincing the doctors by ensuring them a greater flow of patients from our already existing queues. Now, after almost two and half years of operation we can say we have overcome that problem.
Another hurdle on our way was that people initially started percieving Doctorola as a broker linking people to medical services. It took us some time to break through this perception and make people understand how we were assisting them against the mismanagement of medical services and eventually, we overcame this as well.
Furthermore, since we are a startup, finance was another major constraint since the legal framework and practices of including venture capital investment is yet to be properly established in our country. Despite that, we managed to raise funds by proving our potential and credibility to the investors. This ensured further sustainability for our business.
Can it be claimed that people can expect to get reliable professional services related to healthcare through Doctorola, 24/7?
It is difficult to structure our services in a 24/7 framework, though people can request for an appointment anytime. I would like to emphasize that Doctorola cannot be regarded as a care provider or a hospital and relied upon for holistic services in the medical field. For now, we are focusing on the management of medical services delivery by automating healthcare services management in the hospitals, creating a marketplace that would provide necessary information about doctors and help patients connect with them while providing healthcare content to spread awareness. However, improving the quality of professional services is still a future concern.
Do you have any contingencies, in case you fail to provide services in an emergency situation for a client?
First of all, Doctorola mainly operates by connecting people to medical consultation and subsequent services and not for emergency situations. Our system ensures taking feedback from our customers regarding our services. We regularly follow up on negative reviews and ensure the chances of that problem occurring again are minimized. However, it is always difficult to ensure success in every case. No proper contingency exists for the kind of service we provide thus, we always believe in a constant improvement mantra.
What kind of analytics does Doctorola maintain?
We look into how much impact we are making on the society by spreading awareness. Moreover, we also look into whether our marketing channels and activities are generating enough traffic or not. We also do consumer behavioral analysis to predict which regions have the highest demand for our various services.
Do you think the Doctorola has reached a point where you can say you’re proud of your endeavor? Or do you still expect further growth before you can make that claim?
We take pride in being consistent in pushing our boundaries and always looking to improve our services. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go before we claim to be proud of our endeavor.
How do you see your company growing over the next five years?
In the next five years, Doctorola plans on winning the trust and confidence of the people in a way that would ensure the longevity of the business. We have long term plans of becoming the main referral network in Bangladesh for treatments and help establish a system that would benefit all of us as a whole.