The internet has revolutionised every part of Gulf living – from shopping, to education, to getting from A to B. So why has it been so hard to book a doctor’s appointment in the UAE?
Local entrepreneur Fodhil Benturquia asked this question when he fell ill for a short while in 2017 – and it’s a conundrum he’s been solving ever since.
The 35-year-old French Algerian is the smarts behind the region’s first – and much needed – medical search and booking portal.
Launched in April 2018, the Okadoc app (Google and iOS) has a 24/7 medical calendar system that helps patients search and select doctors by specialty, location, language spoken, insurance coverage and instantly book appointments based on availability. And thanks to a well-designed frequent and multi-channel reminder system, Okadoc.com helps patients to never forget a doctor's appointment, and also making it easy to either reschedule, cancel or request earlier availability.
The portal is free for patients to use, but client hospitals and doctors pay a monthly subscription package to facilitate online bookings and list their services. The cost varies typically averaging Dhs500 per month per doctor, according to its founder.
As former group CEO of the $1 billion UAE e-commerce site, Noon, it’s fair to say that Benturquia knows a thing or two about the power of the internet.
He tells Arabian Business: “Coming from an e-commerce background, it was shocking to me that it took so long to make a doctor’s appointment in this day and age. The world has enabled much, much more complex applications with the internet – so why not doctor bookings?”
Benturquia, a founding member of the regional e-commerce site MarkaVIP and former general manager of Souq.com’s Saudi operations, said he was emboldened to start up Okadoc.com when he noted the success of similar models in the US and globally, such as Zocdoc in the US and Doctolib in Europe.
While such apps have between 5 to 15 per cent market penetration in their respective markets, Benturquia says he’s targeting market penetration of at least 30 per cent in the UAE by 2022.
Since its inception, Okadoc.com has already raised a few million dollars of Series A fundraising, and is now preparing to conclude its second round of funding. Benturquia says he will use the firm’s Series B funding to launch in Saudi Arabia in Q2 this year.
Less than a year since the tech veteran launched Okadoc.com, the site is averaging around 90,000 unique visits per month from users who are booking appointments and viewing doctor profiles.
More than 100 clinics and 1,000 doctors in the UAE have partnered with the portal, including some of the largest healthcare providers in the UAE such as Zulekha Hospitals and NMC centers.
In its biggest coup yet, Okadoc.com announced in January that it would list the majority of the 160-plus clinics based in the Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) free zone by the end of 2020 through a custom-made widget for DHCC. Emirates Speciality Hospital and few other clinics are already bookable on DHCC.ae.
Omar Oumeish, executive director of DHCC Authority, said: “We recognise the importance of improving patient care and patient experience, and understand the concerns shared by our providers in the free zone who have to deal with inefficiencies and lost revenue due to no-shows.
“We are excited about introducing a technology solution that will give our patients a tool to manage their healthcare better, and our providers, another approach to tackling no-shows.”
So what’s driving the popularity of the portal? Benturquia claims Okadoc.com can reduce health appointment ‘no shows’ by a whopping 75 per cent.
“Missed appointments are shown to lower efficiencies in the healthcare system, preventing patients from getting timely access to care, and wasting valuable clinical resources including physicians’ time,” says the CEO.
Benturquia, who has commissioned studies into patient behaviour, says there are various reasons for failing to show up to an appointment.
He says:”No showers are a big problem in the UAE; about 37 per cent of people don’t show up, compared to around 20 per cent of patients in the US. This causes massive losses of revenues to the local clinics.”
Okadoc.com research found that 50 per cent of patients in the UAE missed appointments because they ‘forgot’; 40 per cent of patients had tried to reschedule their appointment but couldn’t due to long waiting times or out of hours; and just 10 per cent of people said they ‘didn’t care’ about not turning up.
Benturquia says he has cures for all of the ‘no show’ symptoms – all of which increase bottom lines at clinics by saving on thousands of dirhams of practitioners’ time.
For those who are forgetful, Okadoc.com is able to jog the memory by sending automated SMS reminders, push notifications and email notifications with one-touch calendar click-throughs. The app sends reminders three days before the appointment, one day before and two hours before.
For those patients who want to reschedule, they can easily rearrange their appointment online in seconds at any time of the day or night.
And for those who say they ‘don’t care’ about not showing up, Benturquia says the app sends a note to the patient to remind them of the impact on other patients if they don’t show up.
“We try to create a sense of empathy to encourage them to honour their appointment,” says the CEO. “We also operate a three strikes limitation policy where they will be blocked from the functionality.”
Benturquia says there are a lot of companies in the global tech healthcare space, battling for ground in areas such as telemedicine and pharma delivery.
The CEO says: “There are some companies trying to solve everything at once. We want to focus solely on solving the booking issue first. We want to be the best in the world at booking. We want to improve the global healthcare experience.”
Benturquia adds: “We want to make Okadoc.com the best and biggest health start up in the GCC, so we are open to partnering with others if it helps with our expansion and to develop better technology.”
In his many years at the vanguard of e-commerce in the region, the CEO says he has learned some of the major dos and don’ts in the industry. Benturquia encourages would-be entrepreneurs to keep going in the face of failure. “Don’t be afraid to go for it, with every failure, you learn,” he says.
The CEO also says it’s important to ‘try to keep things simple’ and be very user-centric. “Listen carefully to your users as they provide the reality,” he says.
Benturquia also recommends building a great team and empowering them. “But most of all, make sure you do something that you love and that is meaningful to you.”
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