The health-tech industry was already making strides over the past few years but the industry saw dramatic growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health-tech is increasingly becoming more relevant due to the surge in demands of consumer usage, being one of the contributing tangible growth for access and reimbursements in the telehealth industry. During the pandemic, the telehealth industry garnered a lot of attention by offering care services, as well as the improvements made to healthcare access and affordability through the reinvention of virtual/in-person care models suited for those in need.

According to a report by Mckinsey, around 40 percent of the consumers believed that they will be using telehealth moving forward – with 11 percent of consumers already tapping into telehealth before the pandemic. Many consumers believe that the trending demands and usage of telemedicine expects more people to leverage these platforms with the continuous growth in telehealth.

As such, this gives rise to opportunities to establish the telemedicine industry as a permanent solution, even as people return to in-person consultations as we move from COVID-19 pandemic to endemic. However, according to research, there is a dual-factor concept in technology adoption. It was reported that about 36 percent of patients prefer to go for face-to-face appointments as they have yet to book a telehealth appointment. As such, this brings about concerns regarding the adoption of telehealth virtual medical services for long term health management purposes.

Based on our experiences in delivering telemedicine in Southeast Asia, namely in Indonesia and Thailand, there are a few behaviors and attitudes towards digital health services that could stand in the way of continuous adoption in the post-pandemic era.

Unfamiliarity in receiving medical services without the immediate physical human touch

It is essential to continuously build and maintain trust in a doctor-patient relationship especially when care is delivered virtually. The pandemic has shifted many patients to virtual medicine and online-based consultations, changing the way systems work and this can make trust and relationships harder to establish or maintain.

However, with Good Doctor’s Online-to-offline (O2O) model, it complements the traditional healthcare ecosystems since it offers patient referrals back to the physical healthcare provider such as the lab partners, specialist clinics, hospitals, and many more. Additionally, in Thailand, we have constructed our first-in-Southeast Asia (SEA) physical Good Doctor clinic where patients who consulted with the doctors virtually can visit the same doctor in person at the physical clinic for check-up consultations when needed.

Addressing an overstretched medical system by improving access to care

There was an influx of critically ill patients at traditional healthcare facilities and hospitals were short-handed with the number of nurses and staff, and this resulted in the inability of hospitals to handle high patient cases. This is where telemedicine can complement the traditional healthcare services by triaging the right care at the right time, reducing the burdens on tertiary care settings by becoming gatekeepers of public healthcare systems.

As most telemedicine applications require high-speed connectivity and a reliable internet connection, patients must have high internet availability to reduce the waiting time as well. With Good Doctor’s technology, no prior appointment booking is required as patients can get connected to a good doctor within 60 seconds, and patients can escape the long waiting times from traditional healthcare services.

Currently, the pandemic still shows signs of a large wave of community infections through COVID-19. The huge numbers of patients getting the virus, resulted in a massive flood of cases, bringing the numbers of teleconsultations to a whole new level. With that, many waited for a long time for their turn from a few seconds to an hour, depending on each patient’s symptoms and needs before they were able to get their consultation. Through the long waiting times, some patients were left with inadequate support and this resulted in critics from the frustrated and confused patients.

One doctor for every family across Southeast Asia

Knowing these limitations and challenges that were brought up by a handful of patients, we established Good Doctor in 2018 to help deliver high-quality health services that improve accessibility without being constrained by time and geographic boundaries. We provide services such as medical consultation from General Practitioners to Specialists, an online licensed pharmacy that provides patients with all kinds of health products, and business solutions that provide a holistic healthcare plan for employees or insurance policyholders.

Leveraging technology, we are planning to drive proactive health management, in hopes to achieve our goal, “One Doctor for One Family in Southeast Asia ”. Additionally, we also aim to improve overall health across the region through its RHQ in Singapore, channeling resources into R&D and increasing our headcount by 50 percent. We hope to help to reduce the waiting times through the booked appointments and slowly build on the trust that was lost by patients’ perception, minimizing some of the challenges faced by the industry.

The potential of the health-tech landscape in Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia

As we all know, the future of telemedicine is complementing the traditional healthcare ecosystem, and Good Doctor Technology has been exploring ongoing collaborative opportunities to help with the potential of HealthTech in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

Recently in June 2022, Good Doctor Technology teamed up with Bangpakok 8 Hospital in Thailand to offer telemedicine solutions to Social Security Officers (SSO) patients. In Thailand, the network of pharmacies across the country has reached more than 460 merchants across 45 provinces, with aims to further expand the network by doubling the number of merchants in the new year. Through this, Good Doctor can be punctual in delivering the telemedicine solutions to their patients within an hour.

With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Good Doctor has also collaborated with AXA Financial Indonesia to drive the adoption of digital-first health and wellness tools. Other than that, the health-tech company also participated in the NHSO’s COVID-19 Program to receive outpatient care without the need for referrals to clinics.

Looking towards the future of telemedicine, Good Doctor Technology strives to empower people with proactive healthcare management by putting people back in the driver’s seat of their overall health management. As compared to proactive healthcare management, reactive healthcare management at the individual level has ripple effects on traditional healthcare settings as they deal with issues or incidents at hand. However, it is essential to provide active monitoring of the patients’ conditions and status to prevent any life-threatening emergencies.

Good Doctor also aims to integrate telemedicine services to manage patients with chronic diseases. As chronic diseases are one of the most life-threatening, prevalent, and costly health conditions on the rise in the world, Good Doctor managed to provide telemedicine solutions under a pilot program in Indonesia to help diabetic patients. It was said to be a success in improving rates of long-term patient compliance under the use of telemedicine.

Telemedicine is here to stay in the post-pandemic era and beyond

A report by McKinsey found that consumers reported an increased focus on health and well-being in light of COVID-19 in most Asian countries. Furthemore, a Bain survey with 1,750 consumers across APAC found that telehealth usage doubled since 2019—except in Australia, where adoption increased ninefold. The same study suggests that in Asia Pacific, telehealth adoption is expected to soar through 2024.

In a nutshell, it is safe to state that awareness of health and health-related concerns has grown worldwide following the COVID-19 pandemic. The increasing reliance on telemedicine services is an important trend with promising long-term potential; it can provide patients with the highest convenience and quality of care.

The world is successfully transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic world whereby the possibility of health-tech in the post-pandemic world is likely to emerge with many more opportunities from the development of telemedicine in rural areas, to tools that help facilitate emergency care and even improvements to medical infrastructure. In times of the ever-changing world, there should always be continuous innovation in the sector to address the immediate and future needs of people.

To build a future-proof healthcare system in Singapore, health-tech players need to focus on leveraging the innovative digital ecosystem of the nation to supercharge their research and development capabilities to help improve the overall health of the entire population.

Melvin Vu is Regional CEO of Good Doctor Technology, a joint venture health-tech company between Ping An Healthcare and Technology (formally known as Ping An Good Doctor), Grab, and Softbank established in 2018 with regional headquarters operations in Singapore.

TechNode Global INSIDER publishes contributions relevant to entrepreneurship and innovation. You may submit your own original or published contributions subject to editorial discretion.

Hyperlocalizing Asia-first mental health at scale: What Southeast Asia startups bring to the global stage of innovation