Rising Telehealth Trend Is Here To Stay

Along with other industries during the outbreak, Malaysia’s healthcare landscape has had to pivot as fear along with movement restrictions prompted many to opt out of their appointments in hospitals.  

The pandemic which forced physical interactions to turn virtual in order to to stay updated saw patients who were comfortable with traditional in-person consultations left with almost no other choice but to opt for telehealth services.  

“The pandemic pretty much kicked start the trend further and with this new lifestyle and comfort, continuing use of such digital health and telehealth platforms trend will be on the upward curve,” Co-founder of DoctorOnCall, Maran Virumandi says.  

Co-founder of DoctorOnCall, Maran Virumandi

To date, on a monthly average users (MAU), the site has grown from 600,000 in January 2020 to 2.5 million in January 2021. The telehealth service initially covered e-prescriptions, medication delivery, in-person appointment booking and health screening. But in a Covid-stricken world, Maran says patients are demanding better value and more choices as they get used to receiving virtual care at better convenience and value.  

“For us, with significant participation from insurers, Third Party Administrators (TPA), corporates and providers, we have managed to create the largest Digital Health Platform within the ecosystem,” he says.  

DoctorOnCall is now home to an illustrious panel of partners including Great Eastern, Prudential, Allianz, AXA, Thomson Medical Centre (TMC) Life and Colombia Asia.  

The push by Covid-19 that further accelerated the telehealth trend saw interest from several non-healthcare players as well.   

Late last year, airasia.com introduced airasia Health, a digital platform which offers end-to-end medical services. As a kickstart to its launch, the platform made available bookings for Covid-19 RT PCR tests for RM260 provided by its medical partners from Lifecare Diagnostics Medical Centre and Sunway Medical Centre.  

“Healthcare is essential, and its affordability and accessibility should be a right for everyone. We want to help facilitate that. From the initial consultation to post-treatment services, we aim to make it as seamless as possible for everyone through the airasia Health online platform,” Chief Executive Officer, Karen Chan said during the launch.   

MY E.G. Services Bhd (MYEG) also launched its digital health pass system, MySafeTravel for travellers aimed at making entry into Malaysia faster, simpler and safer.  

Additionally, Monash University Malaysia approved funding for seven digital health strategic projects totalling more than RM2 million focusing on areas such as neurosciences, mental wellbeing as well as improving health access among underserved populations.  

“In the longer run, we believe strongly that digital health can help better manage Malaysia’s challenges in dealing with major healthcare costs escalation driven by a rapidly ageing population and the obesity epidemic,” Maran says of the rising trend.  

He is optimistic the digital health trend will continue to take the front seat even after the vaccination programme has taken place. Consumers’ preferences for care access, he says, will continue to evolve and virtual health will become more deeply embedded into the medical system.  

Targeted personalised care, patient convenience access and continuity of care continues to remain topmost in what consumers look for.  

Despite the increasing number of players entering the segment, Maran says it is still too early in the nascent business to expect it to be saturated. The platform has even ventured into insurance and corporate based subscription services.  

“Yes, a subscription-based model is definitely the way moving forward as we reduce the friction for patients to use digital health services when they need it most,” he says.  

DoctorOnCall is currently engaged with several players including Insurers, Corporates & Third-Party Administrators (TPAs) who are strongly encouraging their members and employees to use DoctorOnCall as the upfront investment into their subscriptions.  

The digital health trend has also penetrated the wellness and fitness space. HealthifyMe recorded a 30 percent organic surge in user traffic, engagement and retention during the first MCO.  

The app offers a monthly subscription as low as 15 ringgit a month, compared to other companies who may have diet plans costing 100-150 ringgit monthly. 

User engagement grew from five sessions per week to 7.5 sessions, while the number of foods users tracked on the app daily from four to eight logs. Number of subscribers for the app’s Coach Plans, which involves personalised diet and fitness coaching, saw a two-fold increase from January 2020 to January 2021.  

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Tushar Vashisht says the pandemic has been a tipping point in driving the increased adoption of digital health solutions in the fitness space.  

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Tushar Vashisht

Statistics showed 2.5 million Malaysians in 2020, a 18.5 percent increase from 2018 are using health and fitness mobile apps for their daily activities, from tracking steps, sleep cycle, calorie intake to monitoring blood pressure.  

Echoing a similar sentiment to Maran’s, Vashisht says the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital health solutions on a large scale and he expects this to be sustained even after the pandemic situation improves.  

“We see opportunities for us to grow our business in Malaysia and the region to become the emerging market digital health leader within the next two years,” he says.  

The platform plans to quadruple their user base and employ 100 dieticians and personal trainers based locally by 2022. Plans are also in place to start serving corporate customers by working on a partnership with them to subsidise cost of the premium as a part of their employment benefits to get their employees to use the app.  

Users are now able to access the doctor subscriptions feature on the app.  

“As users become more health conscious, they are seeking out information and guidance on how to live a healthy life, be it through getting a nutritious diet, exercising more or taking care of their body,” he concludes.  

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