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Malaysia’s telemedicine vision gets fresh boost

Tech startup DoctorOnCall has built a virtual health advisory platform for people to consult doctors amid the coronavirus outbreak, catalysing Malaysia’s telemedicine blueprint, which was conceived over two decades ago

Malaysia’s longstanding telemedicine blueprint, conceived in 1997, had envisioned a day when patients would no longer need to travel to see their doctors. Today, that vision has received fresh impetus from the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

In February 2020, DoctorOnCall, an online medical video consultation startup founded by Maran Virumandi and Hazwan Najib in 2017, teamed up with Malaysia’s health ministry to develop a customised virtual health advisory platform that would address public concerns about Covid-19.

“This is a first-of-its-kind solution initiated by a government in the region,” said Hazwan. “Malaysians can access this portal for the latest Covid-19 updates and talk to specialist doctors for free from anywhere, seven days a week between 8.30am and 5pm, via the health ministry’s or DoctorOnCall’s coronavirus site.”

DoctorOnCall has also partnered with the Qualitas group of clinics to roll out Covid-19 home-testing and drive-through testing services for people who did not fulfil the testing criteria at public healthcare institutions.

“With the movement control order [MCO] to curb the spread of Covid-19, it is critical for companies to transform and innovate to keep up with the times,” said Hazwan. “This is not just a health crisis for Malaysia and the world. It is rapidly imploding into becoming a societal, economic and business crisis.”

Before the outbreak, the platform, which has seen seismic growth in usage, has already seen positive uptake from patients, who could speak to doctors via phone or video call, order and receive prescriptions safely, and access medical content in Malay and English.

“Through the years, DoctorOnCall has established partnerships with top insurers, third-party administrators, benefits and claims administrators, hospitals, pharmacies and corporations,” said the co-founders in a recent virtual interview.

These include Prudential, Zurich, Allianz, Great Eastern Takaful and Caring Pharmacy, among others. The organisation also partners the state governments of Selangor, Kedah, Perak, Terengganu and Penang in their ongoing health initiatives.

At the time of writing, the coronavirus crisis had surpassed 1.2 million confirmed cases globally, with almost 70,000 deaths. Malaysia is heading towards 4,000 cases with more than 60 deaths.

“With this unprecedented effect on all aspects of daily life, Covid-19 has impacted local public health and healthcare in a seismic way,” said Virumandi. “Undoubtedly, it is a challenge for us more than any other healthcare issue in living memory.”

Read more about Covid-19 developments in APAC

In Malaysia and elsewhere, the coronavirus pandemic is spurring businesses to dial up their digitalisation efforts.

“Digital approaches in Asia and Malaysia are helping healthcare professionals and the public to stay up to date on the spread of the disease, providing better and more rapid public health education, maintaining communication and decision-making with our patients and their families, and allowing for better strategic planning,” said Virumandi.

In the 23 years since Malaysia’s telemedicine vision was born, digital tools and connectivity infrastructure have evolved sufficiently to make it viable.

“The ministry of health was quick to adopt technology and transform the way information is disseminated,” said the DoctorOnCall co-founders. “They have done this through the development of the virtual health advisories, using social media to communicate regular updates and have now begun engaging Malaysians through Facebook Live and webinars.”

Many industry watchers expect the coronavirus epidemic to leave behind many permanent changes in its wake.

“Local companies of all sizes that resisted the idea of a distributed workforce, or having a work-from-home policy, have now been forced to allow working from home,” said Virumandi, adding that although this is a “drastic change” from their normal work and company culture, transformation has started to take place because of current circumstances.

For those have not yet done so, Hazwan said it is imperative for Malaysian companies to digitally transform their work practices and places to be able to operate effectively.

“Companies that are able to use technology will survive and rethink their business model for the future by fast-tracking digital transformation, just to stay ahead of the competition,” he added.

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