Medplanner scores a win with secure communications app for healthcare professionals

  • Circles.MD addresses WhatsApp shortfalls in discussing patient care
  • Targets 5,000 users by 2019 before second funding round

 

Ahmad Shahizam Mohd Shariff (left) with Medplanner founder Dr Ezam Mat-Ali

IN DECEMBER 2018, Medplanner, a tech company developing a secure communication app for healthcare professionals, closed its equity crowdfunding (ECF) campaign on Ata Plus with RM1,000,000 by a single strategic investor.

For the founder of Medplanner, Dr Ezam Mat-Ali, it was a “strategic decision” to get into business with this one investor. Ahmad Shahizam Mohd Shariff has a wealth of healthcare management experience to offer from having served as executive director of Parkway Group Healthcare, chief executive officer of Pantai Holdings Bhd, and chief corporate officer at IHH Healthcare Bhd.

Interestingly, Dr Ezam and Shahizam were once secondary school mates. “We had not caught up for many years and were reintroduced through a common friend,” Shahizam said.

Although both connected prior to the crowdfunding exercise, Shahizam believes the ECF campaign was beneficial. “It was good because it allowed them to get a sense of what’s out there and talk to prospective investors with different perspectives.”

To the average man, the idea of a communications app specifically for healthcare professionals may not seem particularly groundbreaking. But the need is certainly real.

Medical fraternity’s need for secure communications

Shahizam says it is a space that has been long looking for a solution and believes the communication app called Circles.MD aptly addresses the issue. “One of the issues doctors and health professionals face is the inability to communicate securely pertaining to patient cases.”

It is a challenge he faced when running a large medical group with hundreds of medical professionals. "Even the authorities have always been grappling with this issue. In terms of commercial viability, hospital administrators would be happy to subscribe to this from a cost and reward perspective," said Shahizam, explaining that just to review a malpractice suit could cost the hospital RM100,000.

In a large hospital setting and with busy schedules, the ability of doctors and nurses to “physically confer and discuss” patients’ progress is an unrealistic one. As such, these health professionals commonly resort to other platforms such as WhatsApp to communicate.

However, the broad nature of the generic messaging app does not offer a secure platform for protected health information and does not comply with the Personal Data Protection Act 2010 (PDPA). Consequently, in 2016, the Ministry of Health banned the use of Facebook, Twitter, Messenger and blogs to discuss patients.

Additionally, chatting in WhatsApp groups has its own shortfalls leading to negative implications. Since clinicians are not allowed to input patients’ personally identifiable data on social media, Dr Ezam says “discussing more than one person on a WhatsApp group can lead to confusion and mistakes made in administering treatment.”

Circles.MD to the rescue

Industry pain points are best felt and understood by those who work in the sector. Circles.MD is well-thought out due to Dr Ezam’s deep passion for how technology can “improve and expedite patient care and reduce the delay in treatment.”

A clinician of 16 years standing and consultant paediatrician at the London North West University, he was among the first cohort of graduates from the Masters in Technology in Clinical Practice at University College London (UCL).

In 2017, Dr Ezam set out to build the first communications platform for health professionals. “Communication is key to decision-making. A lot of delay in treatments comes from the lack of communication,” he emphasised.

Circles.MD enables health practitioners to open folders by patient and record all diagnosis info including photographs, files and plans. Impressively, the app is also able to transcribe voice-notes.

As for security, the app is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. “Photos taken on the app will not be stored on the mobile device but sent directly to the cloud,” said Dr Ezam, adding that the cloud service is ISO 27001 compliant.

Hitting the market

The app officially launched on June 17 in Malaysia and the UK with plans to expand beyond. "Other countries that we want to enter are Singapore, Brunei and Mexico."

The commercialisation rollout Dr Ezam says, will be carried out top-down or bottom-up. Currently, three hospitals in Malaysia are supporting the use of Circles.MD.

Sharing the growth plans for the company, Dr Ezam said: "We target to have at least 5,000 users before we go for our second round of funding hopefully by year end."

To further drive the company forward, he believes: "For tech companies, collaboration with other tech companies is important." The company is in conversation to join hands with Medical Opinion Asia, a startup that provides second opinions to patients.

With Medplanner raring to go, Shahizam was keen on getting the company started on the right footing. His angel investment is to get the app running, capture an initial user base “without putting pressure” on the team in the short term.

He is truly convinced of the idea and the abilities of the Medplanner team. With his "deep links with the healthcare system in Singapore" and other global connections, he believes he can help the company forward.

 
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