Klinify out to cure medical paperwork pains
By Gabey Goh February 18, 2014
- Singapore-based startup aims to eliminate doctors' paperwork pains without them having to change their workflow
- Has raised US$611,742 in funding, to be invested in developing functional prototype and expanding support service
AFTER losing his best friend to leukaemia, Surendran Krishanthan wanted to get involved in the medical industry in some form or fashion.
“He had difficulties finding good oncologists and getting hold of his own medical data was an issue,” Surendran tells Digital News Asia (DNA) in an email interview.
Keeping this personal mission close to heart, he first built up some experience working in retail as a salesperson for Apple products, and also sold goods online. He then met his like-minded Klinify cofounder Nishanth Sudharsanam when undertaking a concurrent management degree programme at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) business school.
Nishanth, now chief technology officer at Klinify, was a scholarship student from India, pursuing his computer engineering degree at NUS.
“We started to dabble with some random ideas initially for about six months. Once we were comfortable with each other’s working style, we dived into solving the problem of helping patients find the right doctors and make appointments seamlessly,” says Surendran.
The two received a S$50,000 (US$39,686) grant under the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme for Schools (YES! Schools) from Spring Singapore, to develop their solution.
Spring is an agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry responsible for helping Singapore enterprises grow and building trust in Singapore products and services.
However, coming up with a wining formula the first time out proved elusive for the duo, with Surendran sharing that the first iteration of the solution, DocTree Asia, modelled after New York-based ZocDoc, “failed miserably.” [Amended to clarify first product]
“The product was more of a vitamin than a painkiller. But we learned doctors were resistive [when it came to] adopting new technology despite all the high-tech based surgeries they performed, and so we spent the next six months trying to understand why they were so resistant to new technology.
“We eventually found out that they hated any change in the workflow process, and that went as far as their thought processes when it came to consulting a patient. They are so used to certain patterns of working, and this is unique for each doctor, that any change disrupts their train of thought. This was a key insight,” he adds.
After joining JFDI.Asia’s seed accelerator programme last year, the team got a better handle on customer development concepts, in line with the principles of the Lean Startup methodology, and went back to the drawing board to identify a problem worth solving.
It was during the accelerator programme that Surendran met the other two members of his founding team, Nik Van Der Ploeg and Danielle Rhodes.
“Nik was the founder of Duable, which helps adults learn to read Chinese as a second language. We had a great time working in the same office and he decided to join us and put Duable on hold for the time being.
“Danielle is our essential hipster, working from overseas for us in charge of design,” says Surendran, adding that he was the ‘hustler’ of the group, with a family active in Singapore’s medical industry offering access to their network.
With the team now complete, and focused on developing a suitable solution, Surendran says they eventually latched on to the fact that patient record management “was a huge pain” for most doctors.
“In fact we had heard this time and time again when we went around selling the first product, but we just didn’t have the right attitude, where we listened to customers. So the problem, combined with the key insight, led to the idea,” he adds.
And with that, Klinify was born.
Taking the pain out of paperwork
Klinify is a document management system that helps private medical clinics manage patient records while preserving their existing workflow.
“Migration to Klinify’s system is swift, painless and minimises the required training and downtime. Because it brings patient records into the electronic realm, it also unlocks significant opportunities to integrate clinical operations seamlessly across partners,” claims Surendran.
He says that Klinify does not change the workflow processes of doctors, taking into account the thought processes of these users, which are affected by the style in which they peruse a patient file or how they take down notes.
“Other solutions require doctors to become data entry clerks, forcing doctors to change their workflow to fit the system. They would require [doctors0 to type reports into small text boxes.
"Whereas with Klinify, they just annotate on top of it, just as they would with paper-based records,” he adds.
According to Surendran, the Klinify system is intended to solve problems associated with paper-based records and is built on secure storage and retrieval, offering seamless synchronisation across multiple devices using databases such as CouchDB, an open source database.
It also makes use of accurate writing technology using active digitisers and handwriting recognition, as well as local storage systems to ensure high availability. To tackle infrastructure issues, fault tolerance has been built in, while its highly customised user experience blends in with doctors’ natural workflow.
When asked about the competition, Surendran says the closest competitor is Evernote, but claims that Evernote has privacy issues as it relies on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for digitising printed texts into electronic documents.
“It also does not fit the workflow of a clinical practice, and is not reliable -- if the Internet goes out, you can’t access data,” he argues.
When asked about the business model that underpins Klinify, Surendran says the team has been innovating in this area.
“We see the consumerisation of health coming sooner rather than later, and so we are going with a per patient per visit model. It ranges from S$0.20 to S$6, from general physicians to interventional specialists.
“We are in the midst of firming up the structure, but generally it’s based on usage patterns and data load. The idea is that it brings more value to patients than doctors, and so patients pay the premium. We collect from doctors on a monthly basis,” he says.
Should the Klinify team hit upon the right pricing formula, things look rosy -- according to Surendran, the electronic medical records market in Asia alone is estimated to be worth US$3 billion.
“This includes hospitals but at the moment we are going after the private clinical practices instead of hospitals. We have had interest from hospitals and we may look into [this] in the future, but for now our focus is laser sharp!” he adds.
Breaking free from tradition
Confidence in what Klinify brings to the table has been high, particularly with investors. The team announced earlier this month that it had successfully closed a S$770,000 (US$611,742) seed-funding round.
The round was led by Jungle Ventures through Singapore’s Technology Incubation Scheme under the National Research Foundation (NRF), and was supported by angel investors from the medical industry in Singapore.
The investment will be used to grow the team, expand the functional prototype that has already secured backing from customers into a fully-fledged product, and extend the support service for clinics.
Surendran says Klinify currently has five partner clinics with whom it is working closely to polish its offering over the next six months.
“Doctors have a low tolerance for incomplete products and these doctors are great because they understand that new technology will not add value immediately, and are willing to invest the time to provide us with valuable feedback,” he says.
Surendran also says that Klinify already has another 10 doctors waiting for the product to come out of beta, and is targeting deployment of the solution at 15 clinics in Singapore within the next 12 months.
When asked what the toughest challenge has been in growing Klinify, he shares that the conventional mind-set among most of the top brass at educational institutes was an obstacle. He is currently pursing bachelor’s degree in business at NUS, having dropped out of his original degree programme.
“I spent a good time and effort having to convince my school that I needed their support for what I was doing. In the United States, or any other country for that matter, you can take a hiatus from your studies and return when you wish to and continue from where you left off. Singapore educational institutes don’t offer that option,” he laments.
He also admits that finding good technical talent in the island-nation to join the Klinify team to help build the product was another challenge.
“Local schools aren’t producing enough computer engineers and the anti-foreign talent policies are not helping,” he adds.
But despite the challenges, Surendran remains committed to his mission of doing his part to improve the medical industry.
“My driving force is that I must contribute directly or indirectly to finding the cure for cancer. Like what Vinod Kholsa said: ‘In the next 10 years, data science and software will do more for medicine than all of the biological sciences together.’
“And I certainly choose to believe data science will cure cancer,” he says.