How Personal Crisis Sparked Innovation at DocDoc

Co-founder and President of DocDoc Grace Park talks about DocDoc’s advances in AI, and how data can bring empathy back into healthcare systems.

Grace Park’s daughter was born healthy. But during her third month checkup, Park and her husband found that their child had jaundice and needed to undergo a series of tests.

They soon discovered that her liver was failing, and she needed a transplant.

The baby eventually underwent a pioneering procedure – so rare that it even made the news. And the experience proved decisive for Park and the company she co-founded with her spouse Cole Sirucek.

Park and Sirucek are co-founders of Singapore-headquartered healthtech startup DocDoc. Park’s recounting of DocDoc’s origins ties with their daughter’s experience. Park highlights an encounter with the surgeon that had informed them of the need for a liver transplant.

“We were obviously in shock. When we asked basic questions­ – how many times have you done a liver transplant; how much is this going to cost; how are your other patients doing­ – it was for us to have more confidence that we’re handing over our child to the right care team,” Park tells Jumpstart, in an interview at Web Summit 2020.

The surgeon’s response was far from reassuring (‘I’m the head of department, I’m good at my job’), Park continues. On the advice of another doctor friend, Park and her husband embarked on a global search for a surgeon to handle their daughter’s complicated case.

The one they found and went ahead with cost them 60% less than the initial team despite his expertise.

“We were lucky, but the everyday average patient should not have to depend on luck in finding the right doctor,” Park says. The experience paved the way for Park and Sirucek to steer DocDoc toward its current model.

How DocDoc’s platform works

DocDoc is a patient intelligence company. It brings together doctor discovery, telemedicine, and cashless services on a unified platform. It works on a human-AI hybrid model.

The company’s doctor discovery engine is based on a model it calls Heuristic for Outcome, Price, and Experience, or HOPE.

Hundreds of data points on individual doctors, based on their background and practice, act as the input for HOPE’s algorithm. Outcome (predictive analysis of clinical results based on each doctor’s expertise), price (associated costs), and experience (bedside manner) act as qualitative metrics.

The AI platform auto-generates a private customized set of doctors for each patient’s requirements. Patients can choose the doctor they want to move forward with from the options.

HOPE provides support for personalized matches where the need for specialized care arises. In the case of primary healthcare, patients’ case needs are evaluated by in-house doctors at DocDoc, who connect them to health practitioners. Patients can have a consultation with them in-person or online.

DocDoc also enables cashless payments as another feature of its customer journey. It connects directly with insurance companies and employers to facilitate patient healthcare payments. For patients, the platform is free to use.

The startup operates across eight Asian countries, mostly in Southeast Asia. It is backed by the likes of 500 Startups, Adamas Finance Asia, Jungle Ventures, and Cyberport Hong Kong.

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DocDoc uses tech to create a patient-centric healthcare experience

Park notes that patients usually have no data or basis of comparison for making informed decisions on their healthcare, apart from social circles such as family or friends. Lists and directories are not as effective in helping patients identify the right doctor.

“How to choose doctor number 17 on that list versus number 57 on that list, just based on name, photo and address, has no correlation to how good the procedure is going to turn out,” Park explains.

DocDoc draws on data to make the doctor discovery process more patient-centric. It took the 2012-founded company four years and 23 doctors to build its knowledge model. Doctors have contracts with DocDoc, and their data is used with consent.

Park notes that the sales cycle at the company took around 18 months before the global pandemic. Now, healthcare systems have been shocked into adopting digital technologies.

This is a major win for healthtech companies such as DocDoc. Another win is an upending of what Park calls the ‘status quo’ in healthcare.

“Part of the status quo is that overall medical costs are increasing. Medical inflation is about two to three times greater than general inflation rates, and this is globally. It’s not sustainable. Every year it goes up, through the absence of information or the assumption that technology or medical devices are getting more expensive,” she adds.

And now that people have experienced what Park sees as lower-hanging fruit, such as telemedicine, she points out that the way forward is only going to be more digital.

“It’s largely been the expectation of where there are in-person meetups, the transaction of data sharing is [analogue]. And so it’s very much stuck in the earlier decades in terms of this sector not being disrupted at all, and so it is a huge wake up call,” Park says.

Will digitalization solve healthcare’s complex problems in Asia?

In 2019, the mortality protection gap in the Asia Pacific region stood at US$83 trillion. 62% of deaths in Southeast Asia are due to non-communicable diseases. Local primary healthcare systems are unable to address these cases. And for every 1000 people in Asia, there are only about one doctor and three nurses available

Problems of access, cost, and quality are referred to as the Iron Triangle of Health, DocDoc spokesperson Madhurima Dutta notes.

“There is an overwhelming amount of research that shows that unlike in other sectors, higher cost does not necessarily translate to higher quality,” she says. “Digital technologies can fundamentally change the cost-quality equation in healthcare.”

This hypothesis has a fair number of takers. Healthtech funding in Asia reached $5 billion in 2019. This is down from $6.4 billion raised previously. But the sector still beat funding projections, with India and Southeast Asia breaking funding records.

Further, digital health solutions can help to optimize resources and healthcare delivery by banking on smartphone apps and growing Internet penetration. In theory, this is helpful for a cost-effective and asset-light approach to healthcare. This can especially benefit primary and preventative healthcare in remote areas.

As with any other technology, it is easy to overstate the benefits of digital healthcare. On the policy level, healthcare is a ‘wicked problem’­. It’s a problem that is challenging to resolve due to its interdependence on other complex social, economic, and cultural factors.

Yet the promises of digital healthcare are many and undeniable. It’s only going to grow as more people such as Park innovate to challenge the status quo.

The challenge with healthtech is thus two-fold. One part is to break past the structural limitations that deny quality healthcare to all. The other is to ensure that all people have an equitable opportunity to enter this new age of healthcare.

Header image courtesy of DocDoc

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