The long patient queues that triggered Dr Kev Lim’s startup journey to profitability with Qmed Asia
By Parvinjeet Kaur and Karamjit Singh May 22, 2023
- Family health challenge opened eyes to painful part of patient experience
- Building a successful startup requires deep understanding of pain points
As a teenager growing up in Tangkak, Johor, Kev Lim took an interest in computing thanks to his older brother who was pursuing a degree in computer science. Helping himself to his brother’s textbooks, Kev learnt about PCs and had a nice gig earning some money repairing PCs in the neighbourhood.
The ability to turn a profit in an area he is interested in was on display almost two decades later when Queuemed Healthtech Sdn Bhd (Qmed), the health startup he launched in Jan 2019 with two others, ended the 2022 financial year (Jun 2022) with US$2.8 million (RM12.5 million) in audited revenue and US$380,000 (RM1.7 million) in net profit, making it a rarity among startups.
The financial performance was built on the back of Qmed expanding its product offerings beyond queue management and rebranding itself as QmedAsia in early 2022, while successfully onboarding 4,000 healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, pharmacists etc) from both public and private sectors while serving more than 2 million patients nationwide, managing more than 11 million bookings. That was as of Jan 2022.
The latest performance as of Jan 2023 sees Qmed Asia having onboarded 4,500 healthcare providers, served 3.9 million patients while managing 14 million bookings.
That growth trajectory saw Qmed Asia, with 47 employees, including 11 in the tech team, close a RM5.1 million equity crowdfund campaign on Leet Capital with 110 investors in April.
[RM1 = US$0.22]
These investors join the four angel investors who, over a period of three years, 2019-2021, came up with a combined RM1.5 million in funding. While founders are strongly advised to have all funding backed up by legal paperwork to avoid misunderstandings later on, the Qmed Asia angels trusted Kev and his cofounders - childhood friends and brothers Dr Tai Tzyy Jiun and Tai Kok Jiun - with no discussion of how much their investment was worth until their ECF campaign set a base.
“We were very lucky to have understanding angels. They were friends and family of us founders. You can never guess how much the company will be worth eventually so that’s why we deferred the decision on how to value their investment,” said Kev.
Sandwiched between the angel finding and ECF was a RM450,000 grant from Cradle Fund in Q4 2021.
Strategic choice of funding route taken
That funding option also showed Kev’s strategic nature. With the much sought after venture investor metric of profitability secured, Kev could have gone the VC route to raise funding but choose ECF.
“With 200 private clinics using our Digital Health Solutions by end 2022, I had many doctors who wanted to invest in Qmed Asia. ECF was the best way to meet their interest,” Kev said, figuring that he was also getting brand ambassadors. “The doctors who become investors will be telling their friends and peers about Qmed Asia as well.”
“I cannot say No to hanging out with friends”
There’s certainly a lot to tell about Qmed and of Kev.
He wasn’t motivated by money when fixing PCs as a teenager. “The best way to learn is by doing something,” he explains. Earning some nice pocket money in the process was a sweet bonus.
He also displayed a sense of self awareness and willingness to sacrifice to achieve a larger goal. Aiming to enter medicine school, which required near perfect scores, he made the decision to move to a neighbouring town instead of remaining in Tangkak for his pre-university exams, called STPM, coming home on occasional weekends.
It was an unusual move for an 18-year old to make but Kev realised he had a major weakness that could harm his med school dreams. “I could never say No when invited to hang out by my friends. I had to change my environment for the sake of achieving my dream."
After medical school he started his career in 2013, got married, with his wife a public sector doctor as well, had their first child and life settled into a routine of long hours at work and being new parents. Then, life changed in 2018 when his eight-month-old daughter was diagnosed with a medical condition called Macrocephaly that required frequent hospital visits for treatment.
But long hours spent on the job made it very difficult for the couple to devote the time required to tend to their daughter. Their guilt was compounded by the fact that both Kev and his wife were paediatricians. “It was emotionally very tough for us, realising that we were spending more time taking care of other parent’s children than our own,” Kev reflects.
With his wife pursuing her masters degree, it was decided that Kev would quit his career and focus on their daughter. At this stage the cause of her illness has not been identified yet.
What followed was months of visits to public hospitals. And this experience proved to be the catalyst for the launch of Qmed Asia.
Expanding beyond patient focus and wait times
During his multiple visits to hospitals, Kev experienced a common feature of public healthcare - long waiting times. This was especially painful for those with young, unwell children like his but also for the elderly. The amount of time wasted was a frustrating experience.
It proved to be a real eye-opener. “This is something we don't see from a doctor's perspective," he said.
“We are normally focused on how we can give our patients better management, medication, and investigations. But the patient journey is something we never think of.” He shared this issue with his childhood friends, Tzyy and Nic. To his surprise they agreed that something needed to be done to fix the outdated and highly inefficient system and were willing to leave their comfort zones to join him to do something about it together. Hence the Jan 2019 launch of Qmed Asia offering a web app, available on both desktop and mobile, with queue services to address the patient's journey by reducing waiting times.
That narrow focus quickly expanded when they realised the market opportunity in digitizing other aspects of patient care and management. Today, Qmed Asia connects patients with healthcare providers, allowing them to access a range of services, from booking appointments to teleconsultations and home healthcare services.
Its mission is to be the trusted partner for healthcare providers and patients to deliver solutions that make healthcare better, and more cost-effective.
Its mobile live queue solution enables patients to check in online, see how many patients are ahead of them, and estimate waiting times so that they can avoid waiting in crowded waiting areas.
The queue solution was initially rolled out as a CSR project in four government clinics before being expanded to 200 government clinics (also called “klinik kesihatan”), still on a CSR basis, to Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Sabah.
While some healthcare companies are reluctant to state the positive impact the pandemic had on their business, Kev does not shy away from it. “ I cannot deny that the pandemic was a boost for us.” Not just from a commercial point but also in creating greater awareness in the medical community of their services, starting with the mobile queue solution during the national vaccination programme.
It had 10 pioneer private clinics that used its service for free in 2019 before it started charging a subscription fee.
Medical background an advantage in dealing with sector challenges
Emphasising that, “Healthcare is evolving faster than ever, and we are passionate about impacting people's health and improving lives by delivering healthcare via technological innovation,” Kev stressed that Qmed Asia is "a strong advocate for AI technology in healthcare."
It recently unveiled two innovative products with an estimated launch date in Q3 2023. Qmed GO, is a telehealth kiosk for workplaces that offers teleconsultations and remote patient monitoring by local GPs, aimed at reducing employee medical coverage costs.
The second product, Qmed Copilot, is an AI-powered clinical assistant that enables healthcare professionals to make faster and more accurate diagnoses by leveraging technology to identify patterns and trends in patient data, ultimately reducing diagnostic errors and improving patient outcomes.
Kev said “Qmed Copilot is a service intended for individual doctors, and its usage method is quite straightforward. For example, doctors can use the app during their daily rounds at the hospital, and if they encounter a challenging case, they can input it into the app. The Copilot will then provide a preliminary idea of the diagnosis and the necessary investigations needed to confirm it.”
Kev believes the founders background as doctors helps Qmed Asia understand healthcare challenges, especially healthcare professionals' reluctance to adopt new technologies and lack of interest in new technology by hospitals. They see this as an opportunity to innovate and improve healthcare delivery.
“With the recent funding, we are well-positioned for regional expansion into markets such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, while also driving the development of our deep-tech solutions in medical AI,” Kev said.
Reflecting on his journey so far, Kev believes entrepreneurs should create solutions that solves a problem, not just because it's cool. He believes that building a successful startup requires a deep understanding of the problem one is trying to solve and a genuine desire to impact people's lives positively.
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