DocDoc gives Asian healthcare sector a boost in technology race

Jan Yumul

Posted at Sep 26 2019 03:17 AM

The Innovation Summit 2019. The day-long event was chaired by The Economist Deputy Editor Tom Sandage and The Economist US Business. Jan Yumul

HONG KONG—If health is wealth, the same has yet to be said about it in the disruptive technology space.

"Healthcare is one of the last sectors that's truly been disrupted by technology and so this is a sector that truly needs greater transparency [and] allow patients to make more informed decisions. We already have that in all of the sectors, whether it's banking, entertainment and what have you," said Grace Park, president and co-founder of Singapore-based DocDoc, the world's first patient intelligence company.

Park spoke at the day-long Innovation Summit 2019, which was organized by The Economist at the swanky St. Regis Hotel in Wanchai, Hong Kong on Sept. 5.

She said they chose to establish DocDoc in Asia, as the regulation environment was "more open to try out new technologies."

Park added that Asia was winning when it came to pockets of innovation, but that the bulk of innovation "was still happening in the West."

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Park said healthcare is the single biggest cost facing the world economy today with over 10 percent of its GDP going to healthcare expenditures, adding the Philippines is no different. 

A report by global insurance company AON showed that while the Philippines' annual general inflation rate is predicted to be 3.8 percent in 2019, its net annual medical trend rate could be at about 6.2 percent.

"In emerging markets like the Philippines, the problem of information asymmetry is more acute, leading to a huge trust gap between the healthcare system and patients," said Park, a Fulbright fellow and a graduate from the United States Military Academy.

Another factor of information asymmetry is the presence of deeply entrenched stakeholders with conflicting interests, she said.

Park said healthcare is a unique industry as patients do not pay for the majority of healthcare service, but third-party payers such as insurers, governments and employers.

"As a result, the balance of power is shifted from patients to third-party payers who have historically been reluctant to change," she said.

"The healthcare industry is undergoing major transformation. The application of data and artificial intelligence in healthcare has enormous potential—the potential to save lives."

Grace Park, president and co-founder of Singapore-based DocDoc, the world's first patient intelligence company. Contributed photo

To put healthcare at the forefront of innovation and transform it into a consumer-centric industry, Park stressed the need to recognize business models that eliminate conflict of interests between various stakeholders and incentivize them to develop mutually beneficial partnerships. 

At the same time, the investor community needs to recognize that healthcare is "a long-term game and investment" in the company's vision accordingly, she said.

"Governments need to formulate regulatory frameworks that foster innovation and at the same time, protect patients from harm's way,' said Park.

She also compared the information asymmetry in purchasing healthcare versus purchasing a car wherein designing a car may be complex, but the consumer's purchase experience is not.

For instance, consumers do not have to understand the drag force formula or instantaneous power equation to judge the performance of a car, Park said.

A new consumer can easily refer to horsepower, which acts as a good indicator of performance. 

To gauge engine efficiency, she added, people don't have to understand thermodynamic concepts like viscosity or the functioning of turbochargers and that a consumer can simply rely on mileage an indicator.

Consumers can easily compare different cars based on verified metrics and purchase one that suit their needs. 

"This kind of framework, whether we consciously realize it or not, exists in numerous industries. In healthcare, such intermediate markers are completely absent, making it near impossible for consumers to find relevant information when they have to make the most important decision of their life, which is finding a doctor for themselves or their loved ones," Park said.

DocDoc collects data points per doctor. The platform's AI-powered doctor discovery engine, HOPE (Heuristic for Outcome, Price, and Experience), applies predictive analytics to DocDoc's proprietary database to find the best match between a patient's medical needs and a doctor's unique expertise.

"We combine this with a medical concierge where medically trained doctors follow patients to the continuum of care, helping patients navigate the complex healthcare journey. As a result, each patient is guided to the most relevant doctor the first time around instead of being bounced around the healthcare system," Park said.

DocDoc, which is present in 8 key Asian countries, including the Philippines, boasts having the largest doctor network at 23,000. 

Park said each Asian country is unique in terms of their healthcare landscape. 

General trend showed that Thailand and Malaysia were increasingly popular destinations for medical tourism due to the high quality of care delivered at reasonable prices. 

Meanwhile, Singapore remained a trusted market for complex procedures, especially those that require advanced medical facilities.

"The Philippines has a high potential to set itself apart as a medical wellness destination due to the country’s tropical climate and natural beauty, which encourage healing and relaxation after medical procedures. Competitive pricing in health and wellness services combined with a high English-speaking population also play a key role," said Park.

DocDoc is backed by notable investors, which include Koh Boon Hwee, former Chairman of DBS Bank, SingTel, Singapore Airlines and Far East Group; Bob McDonald, former Global CEO of Procter and Gamble, former Secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs under President Obama; Bill Hawkins, former Global CEO and Chairman of Medtronic, Hong Leong Group, and Cyberport Hong Kong, to name a few.