Founder Saad Wahab Siddiqui.
Founder Saad Wahab Siddiqui.

These are extraordinary times. One cough and you are paranoid about safety of yourself and everyone else around. But going to a doctor is not wise either as you could end up getting exposed to the coronavirus.

Sure, a video can calm you down but what if you want to get a proper checkup, especially without having to articulately describe something you don’t even understand? How about getting a doctor at home? That should make things better, or so says a startup.

FindMyDoctor is a Karachi-based health startup that brings a doctor to your doorstep. Download the app, register with the usual details, and choose one of the services offered. Say if you want to get a doctor at home, tap on that and select your date and timing (booking can be made up to 60-75 minutes before the appointment), enter the address and submit. Their customer service representative then calls to confirm the reservation. A similar procedure must be repeated for labs as well, where you can pick from one of the six options and single out the test from the drop-down list. Payments can be mostly done in cash but there is JazzCash available.

In addition to these, the portal also lets you search for specialists — only in Karachi. Plus, FindMyDoctor has its own health card — an insurance plan with four packages ranging from Rs6,000-37,000.

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the local ecosystem would know how similar FindMyDoctor’s services are to those of other startups. In healthtech, there is a general tendency for everyone to do everything, making up for a competitive space so how do these guys hope to stay in the game?

“Our primary focus is the doctor at home market, which no one is else is offering right now,” says founder Chief Executive Officer Saad Wahab Siddiqui.

But that’s just one layer of the business which is relatively safe from competition. What about lab tests, doctor booking, or the insurance plans?

“The primary difference in the first is that our own phlebotomist comes to take the sample, instead of getting it done by laboratories, where you basically bypass yourself. In the case of Sehat card, the coverage is more extensive and includes even home care and one parent - again not something otherwise available in the market. As far as searching for practitioners goes, it’s mostly on autopilot and not really where our energies are directed to,” the CEO explains.

The startup was founded in January 2016 by Saad Siddiqui, who had faced the loss of his own mother due to a doctor’s negligence a few years ago. “I wanted to try and fix the system and after graduation was looking at health-related apps but there weren’t any. So, I started a portal that allowed users book doctors and digitised clinics,” he recalls.

“However, it was difficult to monetise this way as doctors weren’t willing to pay so we entered lab testing before finally venturing into our core service now: home-based doctor checkups,” Siddiqui adds.

FindMyDoctor’s business model is fairly simple: they earn revenue by charging a certain commission on each of their services and have raised Rs8 million in a 2017 round.

And though we can agree funding is not really a benchmark for success but when so many others in the space have closed much bigger amounts, doesn’t survival become tricky with fewer resources?

“Other startups are spread out across the country, so they naturally spend a fair bit of money to market themselves into new territories while we have been very focused on Karachi so far,” says the CEO. “Plus, we are already cash positive, so resources are not the main concern for now,” he claims.

Currently, the app has reportedly close to 30,000 downloads and does over 1,500 bookings a month, which begs the question why despite four years of business, they have not been able to scale or at least match that of the other players?

“We took our time, but part of the reason was that, unlike others, we went after doctors that didn’t have their own clinics - younger ones with a few years after house job and employed in hospitals - and that was a long process. But now things are moving at a fast pace because of Covid-19: people are trying to avoid doctors for preventing any exposure and this is where our home services solve the problem, and much better than done by telehealth,” says Siddiqui.

And to make the most out of the opportunity that has come — not to sound callous, he is planning to start Covid-19 testing while considering to subsidise the doctor charges — currently at Rs800.

The writer is member of staff:

m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com

Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2020