Next Story

Your doctor, just a call away

Motivated by personal tragedy, one young entrepreneur has leveraged technology to bring healthcare to your doorstep

By Yusra Salim |
facebook whatsup linkded
PUBLISHED July 07, 2024

Saad Wahab Siddiqui used his personal loss to do good for others. He was doing his bachelor’s in economics from SZABIST in Karachi, when his mother lost her life due to doctors' negligence.

“The day she died, I observed people in the hospital who were worried about paying the bills, running from one end to the other in distress trying to keep their loved ones alive,” Siddiqui said, speaking to The Express Tribune. “They were asking for loans and calling up acquaintances to help them out with money to pay the hospital bills.”

Whereas Siddiqui’s family did not have to worry about his mother’s hospital expenses, the young man resolved to do something for others as he sat with his mother when she was breathing her last. “Amma, we couldn’t save you but I will try my best to make healthcare affordable to the people of Pakistan,” he thought. “Back then, it was just a promise I made to my dying mother. I didn’t know what to do next and how to go about it,” shared Siddiqui, founder and CEO of Find My Doctor, an app that provides various at-home healthcare services to its users though WhatsApp.

In the city of more than 20 million people, the facility and outreach for healthcare is a daily task with people waiting for hours for doctors or paying hefty sums of money to private hospitals. The wait is neverending. This is where telemedicine has helped to bridge the gap of service delivery in Karachi but also the rest of the country.

The need for remote access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic boosted the digitilisation of healthcare in Paksitan. As a result it is now being effectively utilised across the country including the remote areas.

Siddiqui launched Find My Doctor in 2016 as a facility to get patients in touch with doctors free of cost. Today his platform provides 28,000-29,000 free consultations a month.

After graduating from SZABIST, SIddiqui researched the market on where to start working. Initially, he launched a platform for patients to book their doctors practising at various clinics. “Find My doctor was a very simple and easy idea,” he said. “We told the doctors that we will give you a software where you have to post your available slots of appointments and we will market you on the application and in return we will charge 1,000 rupees and provide you all the services,” he explained.

The issue the platform faced was that the doctors didn't agree to pay even for the market that Siddiqui and his team were creating for them. They would tell him to charge the pharmaceuticals – and these were doctors who charged 2,000-3,000 per patient.

Then in 2017, Siddiqui raised funds for the business upon realising that without generating money, his service will only face losses.

“I changed my business model and thought about introducing health care services at patients’ homes. Many patients require services at home, so through the app, one can get the needed service at their doorstep,” he said, explaining that these are only general physicians who treat basic illnesses and provide consultation and can guide the patient for further diagnosis.

When the service launched, they started getting appointments from Gulshan, Tariq Road and other adjoining areas. All the doctors on the platform were young doctors working in the emergency departments of different hospitals. They were taking patients from their nearby areas in their spare time and providing at-home consultations.

“We have verifications from hospitals where the doctors work and the majority of doctors earn little in the hospitals, somewhere between 40,000-50,000 rupees. So the platform helps to increase their income to around 70,000-90,000 rupees,” Siddiqui said.

This was a 50-50 model, for example, if the platform is charging 1,000 per at-home consultation, then the platform gets 500 and so does the doctor. “Right now, we are charging 3,000 rupees while the market rate for at-home consultation is 8,000 rupees,” Siddiqui mentioned.

While home services were growing, Siddiqui came up with the idea to include laboratory services. “I told the laboratories that our phlebotomists will go and collect the samples and deliver them to the laboratory,” he said. The service started with Dr Essa Laboratory and Diagnostic Centre, however, later Finf My Doctor began their own service for home consultations. Clients are not charged extra for the lab services, while labs from their own platforms charge 300-400 rupees extra.

“Other labs have outsourced their services to us, such as National Medical Centre and DOW Medical. If you call these labs, a phlebotomist from Find My Doctor will come to your home,” said the founder of the app.

Siddiqui continues to expand the services his team can offer to users. “To make it a one-window healthcare platform, pharmacy services have been added to the system as well. Everything is interconnected. Moreover, the service also helps in getting insurances for patients who cannot afford healthcare, so any health-related problem anyone has, this one app can resolve it.”

Recently, Siddiqui pitched an idea to the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation to provide free teleconsultations in Karachi. “The idea was that anyone can message on a number and get a doctor on call. Now it works the same way where one can message and get connected to a doctor in 15 minutes,” he explained.

The simple procedure is to message on the WhatsApp number, +923135228378, say that you require teleconsultation and leave your name, phone number, area where you reside and basic explanation of your problem or illness. Immediately, your data is sent to the concerned doctor and you will in turn receive the details of the available doctor who will be contacting you. The doctor will automatically call you on WhatsApp for consultation.

“The reason we kept it direct through WhatsApp is because when we ask people to download the app or make an account, half of them don’t. We kept it easy to use,” Siddiqui clarified. The idea is to allow people to get used to the service and once they are comfortable using teleconsultation then they can shift to the app. Currently, the platform is providing 800-900 free consultations.

The first consultation is done via video call. The second step is, if the doctor feels that the patient requires physical checkup, then they suggest they have at-home services but that requires a doctor’s fee to be paid. Other than that, if tests are required, the doctor will also inform the patient. For that too, the platform has options of home services with 10 percent discount or the patient has the option to get the tests done from anywhere they like. In most cases, the patients find it convenient to get home services as they don’t charge extra and saves them from the hassle of going to a lab. Most patients are elderly and going to labs again and again is not possible for them.

How the app generates income?

“Since teleconsultation is completely free, the business model works in other aspects. For instance, we provide the first step free and cover other expenses from other services, like medicines, tests and other options. This is because I myself wouldn’t pay for telemedicine,” he said. Out of the 8,000 cases a month, some 3,000-4,000 convert to test and specialised consultations.

Right now, Find My Doctor has full-fledged operations in seven cities of Pakistan including Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad, and Peshawar. Until now, word of mouth is working and they get calls from Italy, Turkey and even Kenya and they provide services to those users as well.

The majority of the work is in Karachi. “Unfortunately, we don’t have doctors in any other city than the ones mentioned but we have lab connections and we get the tests done if any requests come,” Siddqui said.

Corporate customers who require a psychologist or dermatologist are charged while a consultation with general physicians is free. Even in the future, the service will not charge for a GP online consultation but will charge corporate customers as they require specialised services.

The platform is also helping in extracting data on a regular basis. Data specifically classifies that a particular person living in an area has a certain illness. That can help in identifying the incidence of a disease in a particular area, and many areas have been identified with HIV cases. Such data can also help project what kind of diseases can be expected to rise in the city in the coming years.