Thriving in the pandemic

Shot in the arm for digital health services

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many businesses but some Singapore firms continue to survive - and even thrive. In the last of a four-part series, The Straits Times looks at local enterprises that have seized opportunities to grow amid the economic downturn.

Dr Shravan Verma, chief executive of digital health app Speedoc, which allows users to book a doctor or nurse for home visits 24/7, or have a teleconsultation. They can also book an ambulance for non-emergency situations. The app has experienced a sp
Dr Shravan Verma, chief executive of digital health app Speedoc, which allows users to book a doctor or nurse for home visits 24/7, or have a teleconsultation. They can also book an ambulance for non-emergency situations. The app has experienced a spike in demand over the past year. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Seeing a doctor has taken on a whole new meaning amid the pandemic with plenty of patients keen to keep a distance, which is where digital health app Speedoc comes in.

The app has experienced a spike in demand over the past year, whether from people wanting to book urgent face-to-face treatment or those preferring consultations without leaving home.

Chief executive Shravan Verma said that many people think twice about visiting clinics and hospitals as they want to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus, and more are turning to alternative ways of getting medical care.

Speedoc's revenue surged nearly 400 per cent last year over 2019's level, while app downloads rose by more than 200 per cent from a year ago.

"We already had a network of healthcare professionals in various parts of Singapore, so when the pandemic occurred, it was very easy to deploy them to provide medical care in their vicinity," said Dr Verma.

The app allows users to book a doctor or nurse for home visits 24/7, or have a teleconsultation. They can also book an ambulance for non-emergency situations.

The surging demand prompted Speedoc to hire more than 70 full-time and part-time staff - mainly doctors and nurses. The start-up now has 60 full-time employees, up from just 12 a year ago.

It raised $6.7 million in a Series A funding round in December led by venture capital firm Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India.

Some of the funds will be used to enhance the company's Chronic Disease Home Management programme that was launched in June last year.

This allows patients to get tested and treated at home for chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They can also view a record of their consultations on the app.

Speedoc became MediSave-accredited in November and Community Health Assist Scheme-accredited (Chas-accredited) the next month, so patients can use Chas subsidies and MediSave to finance part of their chronic treatment bills.

The firm plans to develop clinical pathways to handle more complex illnesses. For example, it is working with a public hospital to manage conditions that are usually treated there.

Sensors could be set up in a patient's home to monitor vital signs and send them to the cloud, allowing Speedoc's team to follow up and send medical care when necessary, said Dr Verma.

The firm is also piloting programmes for patients who need more regular check-ups for conditions like dengue, pneumonia and some skin infections.

If a patient is diagnosed with dengue, for example, he can get blood tests and have his platelet count monitored and an intravenous drip set up at home, said Dr Verma, who worked at various hospitals here before co-founding Speedoc with Ms Serene Cai in 2017.

"We foresee that, in the future of medicine, people will no longer need to go to a hospital or clinic but there's this alternative where they can get the same or similar levels of medical care in their own homes," he noted.

Speedoc also played a part in the fight against Covid-19 by working with government agencies to screen some 13,000 migrant workers in dormitories.

It quickly built a Covid-19 response team that was separate from the staff who did house calls. It set up telemedicine capabilities in dormitories, such as kiosks for workers to monitor their blood pressure and oxygen levels.

The company is also looking at offering telemedicine services in more industries where these may be lacking, such as the oil and gas and aviation sectors.

It has been carrying out telemedicine consultations for the maritime industry to support crew changes since last June.

"Over the past year, many seafarers were unable to come ashore due to Covid-19 restrictions, and that's when telemedicine came into play. We were able to treat seafarers and also certify them fit to fly via telemedicine," said Ms Cai.

Speedoc plans to set up shop in Penang, adding to its Malaysian operations in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru. It is also eyeing the Philippine and Indonesian markets.

Dr Verma - a 33-year-old Delhi native who moved to Singapore in 2009 and graduated from the Duke-NUS Medical School - said the pandemic has been a boon for digital health services.

"People now do not see these services as something that is very niche. They say, 'I can get food and other things delivered, and I should have medical care delivered to me as well.' We want to continue improving our level of care safely."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2021, with the headline 'Shot in the arm for digital health services'. Subscribe