With the Founder inspired by an emergency bypass surgery, OurHealthMate makes sure remittance money for healthcare is spent in the clinic
In Singapore, the startup scene has a reputation for immense government support, a developed investment community and is considered a launching point into Southeast Asia.
One less-talked-about feature of the ecosystem is it is dotted with expatriates. As of June 2015, the Singapore population was 39 per cent foreign-born, and the startup world is certainly an ethnically-diverse ecosystem.
The result of a diverse population is Singaporean companies are solving problems inherently un-Singaporean.
One such example is the healthcare startup OurHealthMate, which was created by a team of Indian expats who have called Singapore home for 10 to 15 years.
The pain point of the company is wholly unique to an immigrant perspective because it is allows the customer to specify that remittance funds are strictly for healthcare — a problem a local-born citizen is unlikely to encounter.
The problem and the solution
As told to me, the essence of the problem can be found in a hypothetical but typical conversation between the average Indian living abroad and their parents.
“How are you?” asks the child.
“Great,” the parent replies.
“And how is your health?”
For OurHealthMate Co-founder and CEO Abhinav Krishna this was a typical conversation he would have with his father. Check in, make sure everything is alright, but never really dive too deep into the subject.
But one day, his mother called with news. Krishna’s father had emergency bypass surgery.
“[Krishna’s father] had a lot of health problems but never went for checkups,” Founding Partner and CTO Ayush Bharti says, explaining the inspiration for the company.
“The problem is you send money back home, but the money is not used for the intended purpose,” says Bharti. “Our product is a booking portal that allows Indian expats to find, book and pay for medical services back home.”
How it works
When a user lands on the website they are presented with two drop-down menus — the city, followed by the doctor’s specialisation (orthopaedics, cardiology etc.).
The person picks out the desired package, pays the bill and even books the appointment. At that point, the OurHealthMate support team comes in and makes sure the patient is aware the appointment has been made and gives them all the possible information to get them to the checkup on time.
Afterwards, OurHealthMate will contact the doctor and see if there are any issues they can share with the payer.
Which immediately brings up the question of doctor-patient confidentiality.
Founding Partner Sanjay Havaldar says the decision about what information can be discussed is at the discretion of the doctor. The physician can decide what is helpful feedback versus what is to be revealed at the discretion of the patient.
“[It is usually] general stuff, like, if obesity is a problem, diet is a problem, exercise is a problem. These are things that may be shared with a payer. Or, if [the doctor] thinks more tests need to be done to come to a conclusion. So the payer can pay for other services,” Havaldar says.
The company charges a percentage on the revenue generated by the clinic via the web portal. The advantage for the clinic is, because the money is paid up front, OurHealthMate has a nearly-zero cancellation rate compared to a 30-35 per cent rate for traditional pay-after bookings.
While Bharti and Havaldar did not reveal the number of payers, a major asset for OurHealthMate is the high likelihood that a user will find the correct service near the home of their family.
The startup began with a network of 50 doctors. Today it claims more than 16,000 medical professionals across 7,000 clinics in 450 cities in India. It has about 30 core employees and varying numbers of project-based workers.
As one would guess, many of OurHealthMate’s users come from the US, Canada, UK and Singapore — all places with a high population of Indian expatriates.
“Our typical client is somebody who has moved from India and may have moved alone or with [a family]. So it could be anybody from a middle-class to white-collar [worker]. There is a wide variety,” says Havaldar.
OurHealthMate also offers a marketing service called ClinicLinc, which the company says is beneficial as another means of developing relationships with clinics.
A 2013 graduate of the JFDI accelerator program, they raised US$440,000 from various angel investors in January 2014 and currently have an investment and technology partnerships with the venture-builder firm LeoTech.
The ‘Homejoy Dilemma’
The shutdown last summer of the housecleaning startup Homejoy revealed a potentially fatal flaw in the ‘portals for facilitation’ business model.
For Homejoy, a company once valued at US$131 million, users would be connected with a maid and, if they were satisfied with the service, would bypass the middle man (Homejoy) and simply phone the person or make a permanent hire. Homejoy shut down last July in order to pay back investors.
“We have thought about this quite a bit. There are a few dynamics at place,” says Bharti.
He acknowledges offline consultations are “outside the system, so to speak” but points out the most important asset for OurHealthMate is the payment system.
“There is the friction of [in the traditional method] the patient does not know what they are paying for. If I pay after then, I have to pay whatever they ask me. At least [the users] can figure out what [they] want to pay for ahead of time,” explains Bharti.
The payments are made by a third party (the loved one). So, sure, the patient may find a clinic they like but the expatriate decides on paying for the service.
Piloting the Philippines and rolling out new products
When talking with Bharti and Havaldar the two expressed — as much as is possible in the startup world — a feeling the company had reached a point of self-confidence in its ability to consistently meet expectations with its service.
Which means the team is looking at diversifying services, regional expansion and other means to generate alternative revenue streams.
OurHealthMate is beginning its first expansion outside of the Indian market with a six-month pilot program in the Philippines. The company already has an office in Manila and is working with partners as it no longer has to start from scratch.
It already has offices in Singapore, Bangalore, Lucknow and Delhi.
“So one of the reason why [we chose] the Philippines as the next place is because they have cultural similarities for how they care for family,” said Havaldar, “[Also], the government healthcare program is not as focussed as in the developed world and people have to fend for their own healthcare, so that is one way we can help expatriates.”
OurHealthMate is also working to develop technology for emergency services, long-term care for the elderly as well as pre- and post-pregnancy care.
They are also looking into the feasibility of a subscription service — a really interesting idea with the potential to do justice to the word ‘disruptive’ within the insurance world.
Why is the office still in Singapore?
The question touches on a couple of issues for Singapore’s startup scene.
First, Bharti expresses a familiar feeling for any immigrant after a long time living and working in a foreign country.
“The network that we have after being part of JFDI is much better than going to India. None of us have lived there for 10-15 years, so it doesn’t make sense to move back and try to build that up,” he said.
While from India, the team’s business acumen is Singaporean — a trait not uncommon amongst the country’s expats.
The other reason the company is in Singapore is branding.
“Singapore as a country is known for its quality of service. So when our company is backed by Singapore, there is this trust factor that the doctors believe in. We prove it, we back it with our service. Versus, if this is in India, it may be just be ‘another Indian company’. It gives some weight as to the quality of service,” explains Havaldar.
“It is like goods made in Germany versus goods made in China. They could both be excellent, but there is an image around it,” he says.
OurHealthMate appears to be on track to be a Singaporean success story, thanks to a bit of outside perspective.
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