KNOW YOUR OPTIONS
Having built a career in healthcare delivery in four different countries, including managing three major hospitals in Kuala Lumpur for over two decades, Stuart J Venner Pack observed a distinctive behaviour in patients.
Many are unwilling or afraid to question their doctors for a different opinion once a diagnosis is given.
“There is quite a reluctance to ask doctors; ‘Is there an alternative to what you’re suggesting? Or what would happen if I dont have the treatment at the moment?,” says Venner.
“Perhaps patients could get better outcomes if they just step back and get to know a bit more about what was wrong with them,” he says, adding that the cultural reluctance to question is more prevalent in Southeast Asia.
This is really to help people who have seen the doctor but not sure about what they’ve been told. They just want another opinion
Sensing this gap between patients and doctors, Venner, along with co-founder Datuk Wei Chuan Beng, embarked on med-tech startup Medical Opinion Asia, a platform linking top medical specialists in the country and patients hoping seek a second opinion - all done online, real time, at anywhere in the world.
“This is really to help people who have seen the doctor but not sure about what they’ve been told. They just want another opinion.”
For a fee of RM320, patients have access to a group of doctors from private hospitals in Malaysia and Singapore ("For now, we have over 75 doctors covering most specialties"), submit their queries and receive a feedback within 72 hours.
“That’s the KPI we’ve set. But we are getting a turnaround rate of 24 to 48 hours,” says Verner, “This is obviously not for emergency situations,” Venner adds with a chuckle.
Closing the Gap Between Doctors and Patients
While online medical consultation is not new, Venner says MOA is the first to offer a second opinion consultation service that allows for patients to upload, not just reports, but images and video scans too.
“There’s no other companies doing it the way we are in Malaysia. The nearest country to this region where second opinion is being offered is India,” says Venner.
What’s very important for diagnosis is for doctors to to see image. They can see a radiologist report. But it is far better for them to see the image. Our software allows to move the largest of scans
“What’s very important for diagnosis is for doctors to to see image. They can see a radiologist report. But it is far better for them to see the image. Our software allows to move the largest of scans - MRI, CT scan, PET scan,” says the British-born healthcare expert, who has been the COO of Subang Jaya Medical Centre and CEO of two of Malaysia’s top private hospitals, Gleneagles Medical Centre and Prince Court Medical Centre.
MOA was launched 18 months ago. The uptake among the public has been slow, admits Venner. But the interests garnered among corporate, insurance and legal firms toward the service have been encouraging.
“The real business, we are finding, is coming from B2B - that is working with the insurance companies, corporate human resource departments. Lawyers are coming to us as well.”
As of press time, MOA has established partnerships with a telecommunications company and property developer based in Kuala Lumpur.
“I give you an example. One had an employee who’s been told that he needs an urgent operation. So, the HR department asked us to give an opinion. We had the MRI scan and very quickly, gave the (second) opinion on the same day which suggested that it was not an urgent operation.”
“A simple decision like that can be very useful, especially if the employee is a major player within company.”
The service, Venner adds, could help large corporations to manage cases involving absenteeism too.
There had also been cases, that went through MOA, were patients were misdiagnosed the first time.
“We are already seeing signs of it. That’s maybe one of the big pushes to show that this kind of service is necessary. And by doing what we are doing today - by talking about this - is going to let people know that they should be asking questions whether it is from a corporate or individual standpoint.”
Moving More Towards B2B
MOA’s plans are not limited to providing a platform for patients to seek alternative medical opinion.
An app, currently in development, will also look into providing special programmes linked to wearables, such as courses to help people living with diabetes, memory loss, thyroid and to programmes to help families living with the elderly.
“The aim always is to make it easy for patients and where possible, keep patients out of hospitals,” says Venner.
The aim always is to make it easy for patients and where possible, keep patients out of hospitals
“We have already built a symptom checker into our platform. So, if you’re not feeling too well, run through the symptom checker to have an idea what could be wrong before going to see the doctor.”
“We are not saying you should delay that visit to the doctor; that you actually go better prepared to see the doctor by running through a set of symptom checker first.”
The start-up, which has been self-funded until now, is looking to raise up to three million ringgit via equity crowdfunding to complete the development of the app and to ramp up commercialisation of its services.
“Healthcare, unlike other business, doesn’t happen overnight. You have to build trust and confidence,” noting it’s an uphill task to get the public’s buy-in. “They must trust you.”
The doctors, meanwhile, are happy to have the flexibility to consult on the platform. Venner is not ruling out teleconference consultation in the future but the focus is on providing the convenience to both patients or corporate clients and doctors now.
“You are tying people down to a very specific time frames by doing teleconferencing. That’s more difficult with busy doctors,” says Venner. “What we are doing at the moment fits in very nicely for them.”
“What is important for me is to be able to pass on the trust,” says Venner, “That these are doctors who are going to give opinion which are appropriate to questions that is being asked.”
Passing on the Trust