The Pandemic is the Mother of Telehealth Adoption
How the quarantine convinced healthcare professionals to embrace consulting from home.
Healthcare Anywhere and the Psychology of Risk
When we launched MEDIFI in late 2015, the digital health industry was really taking off. As we set out to provide a telehealth and teleconsultation platform to a Philippine market that sorely needed it, the benefits to both patients and doctors seemed inarguable. What patient wouldn’t want the ability to consult with their physician without leaving the comforts of their own home? However, being a multi-sided platform, the success lies in strengthening MEDIFI’s supply-side with a significant number of physicians onboard.
The value proposition was very clear and everyone seemed to be on-board, but what seemed logical on paper is no match for the realities of human behavior. We kept on reaching out to doctor after doctor, receiving the same non-committal praise for the platform, followed by the promise to try it out but ghosted in the end. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t believe in telehealth, the problem was that they didn’t trust it.
It was a year later when we realized why we continued to experience push back. It was a variable that many seasoned sales people in the health industry already knew, and rookies like us never even considered. Physicians will always be risk-averse, and any new innovation added to their practice will automatically be considered an unnecessary risk.
It took us a few years of trying to determine which pain points we could address to convince doctors to adopt telehealth. At one point, we were convinced that MEDIFI as a mobile app (we were previously a pure web app at the time), would be the silver bullet that would finally get doctors onboard. The doctors said so, we believed them, and we started rebuilding our platform to be mobile-centric focused on asynchronous teleconsultation (that’s another story).
The problem wasn’t that they didn’t believe in telehealth, the problem was they didn’t trust it.
Drafted into Service by the War on Covid-19
Four years later in 2020, just like everyone else, many of our assumptions and strategic plans were upended by Covid-19 and the Philippine quarantine lockdown.
We had just launched a closed beta in November of 2019 of MEDIFI on mobile devices, and the MEDIFI for Doctors web application. The plan was to proceed with a controlled rollout through a closed ecosystem of patients and doctors. This allowed us to monitor and measure how the platform was used, introduce new features at a manageable pace, and ferret out any bugs before an actual launch in March or April 2020.
By March, Covid-19 had reached Philippine shores, and on March 14, the government announced a strict quarantine to control its spread. It was a total lockdown and general mobility was restricted for everyone. That afternoon, we started to receive calls from some of our close doctor friends from multiple networks asking if MEDIFI was live. We still had a few more features to implement and there would surely be bugs that we hadn’t yet caught, but without any hesitation we said we were ready for them. All efforts in the MEDIFI organization proceeded to shift to high-gear.
That day started a frenzy of signups by both doctors and patients, a rapid growth in online consultations, and an unbelievable volume of new feature deployments, bug fixing, and user interface redesigns. In addition to that, the massive load on our infrastructure required us to redesign and migrate to a new architecture to accommodate the large number of requests we were experiencing.
Telehealth: an Idea Whose Time Has Come
The Covid-19 pandemic with the quarantines, shelter-in-place, and social distancing protocols has forced many to accelerate their digital transformation plans. Many of us have started to realize the elevated role that digital now plays as a significant part of our businesses, professions, and lifestyles. In the healthcare industry, the need for digital adoption became immediately obvious. Access to telehealth meant that our healthcare professionals could continue their practice and see their patients in the new normal. Equally important, patients would likewise be able to seek out non-emergency medical consultations without having to break social distancing and needlessly overload scarce health facilities.
In just a few months, MEDIFI had since grown from 45 doctors and 300 patients in March to over 3,150 doctors and 22,000 patients.
Democratizing Access to Quality Healthcare
It took five years for MEDIFI to evolve into what it is today, and it took this major pandemic for the market to adopt it. We’ve been fortunate to have taken that time to build a product, positioned as a B2C platform from the start, which delivers the best and most scalable telehealth model a time it is seriously needed.
In just a few months, MEDIFI has since grown from 45 doctors and 300 patients in March to over 3,150 doctors and 22,000 patients. We definitely foresee the emergence of a more digitally mature market, whose habits will lean more naturally towards an online lifestyle. Telehealth will clearly follow this trend, and when we all come out on the other end of this pandemic, MEDIFI will continue to take a leading role in the country’s digital healthcare journey.