Digerati50: Maran Virumandi, Hazwan Najib raring to reach the next stage

  •  ​Maran Virumandi and Hazwan Najib work on being the Intel Inside for insurance apps
  • Early years draining – doctors, pharmacy groups ‘pour cold water, throwing darts at us’

Maran Virumandi and Hazwan Najib launched DoctorOnCall in 2016, Malaysia's first telehealth service.

Digital News Asia continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.

The following article appears on Pg50 in the print edition.

Online consultations or telehealth have exploded in the era of Covid-19 with many countries encouraging it as it is seen as a way to relieve the stress on national health care systems.

Ex-Accenture consultants Maran Virumandi and Hazwan Najib however were bullish on telehealth back in 2016 when they launched DoctorOnCall, Malaysia’s first telehealth service. “We saw how healthcare was being run, untouched by the magical power of technology,” said Maran, who was invested into a group of three clinics at that time and was witnessing this first hand.

DoctorOnCall, today, offers an integrated digital solution through its partnerships with ten insurance companies, five state governments and integration with providers like CARiNG Pharmacy.

[Ed: As of end Sept 2021 it has also integrated with Pharmaniaga, Columbia Asia Hospitals, Thomson Hospital, BP Healthcare and others.]

Confident as they were, Maran, pointing to the example of clinics which still hold patient records in hard copy, believes there is a long way to go before preventable medicine through data analytics and customer relationship management becomes a reality. But when that reality arrives, Maran and Hazwan fully expect to be key players.

The early months of 2020, with a slew of regulatory changes has the duo are all excited for the revitalisation of the health sector.

“Over the last six months [from Jan 2020], the government’s vision has been to put into place the building blocks to separate prescribing and dispensing of medicine,” shared Maran. Although the move is not explicit, several provisions have been made in its support. Among them is the price capping of medicine, free market rate for doctor consultations and a digital health regulatory sandbox.

Maran believes the impact will free up the market which is tied up by doctors that hold a monopoly in issuing prescriptions and hence, overcharge for prescription drugs by 30% to 70% compared to pharmacists.

Predictably, the early years were tough. “It was just so draining to get doctor and pharmacy groups pouring cold water and throwing darts at us,” he recalled.

Undeterred, the team put their nose to the grindstone and worked on educating the public on preventable diseases by developing content in the Malay language.

The reason for the Malay language focus? Early on in 2017, the duo caught on to the fact that while education is the key to solving preventable diseases, there was little to no content in Malay for the masses. “To address this market gap, we came up with over 50,000 articles, videos and listicles in our health forum fashioned after WebMD in Bahasa over the course of three years,” said Maran.

“Trust me, it was hardcore! We were just with our heads down, working through this.”

Users would access the forum threads with doctors answering their questions, while DoctorOnCall’s content writers would make the content more interactive with photos and videos.

As a result of this, as of end June 2020, DoctorOnCall has in excess of a million page views per month while revenue has grown steadily with a big leap in 2019, multiplying tenfold. The duo are now looking to raise a Series A round.

[Ed: As of end Sept 2021 monthly page views has gone up to 4 million.]

This approach also attracted the attention of insurers. “They could do easy marketing with us and improve their customer engagement, rather than just connecting to customers when a tragedy occurred,” said Hazwan.

DoctorOnCall takes a mobile-first approach through its web platform but does not offer a mobile app as the founders realised that people don’t want to download an app. This formed the basis for their strategy of working with insurance providers with one example being Prudential.

“They have Pulse, a healthcare app. But the medical portion of it is powered by DoctorOnCall,” says Hazwan.

Maran describes this as their guerrilla growth plan. “It is expensive to brand ourselves as the top health app. Instead, we become the Intel Inside to insurance apps,” he explains, referring to semiconductor chip leader, Intel’s branding strategy.

Now, Maran and Hazwan are raring to take DoctorOnCall to the next level by developing a marketplace.

While the duo believe there is only room for one or two marketplace players, they are confident that they have a winning formula through close integration with insurance providers. “The moment they integrate with our APIs on their app, it becomes a huge value-add,” says Hazwan.

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