In Focus
HEALTHCARE | Arianna Danganan, Thailand

Bumrungrad International Hospital shocks the market with $15 telemedicine consultations

New and existing patients can use Bumrungrad Anywhere to access over 200 doctors at the touch of an app.

Long wait times in the doctors surgery could be a thing of the past with Bumrungrad Hospital’s telemedicine consulting service which promises to connect you with a doctor in under 3 minutes. Patients can now get real-time physician consultations even if they are sitting in the middle of heavy Bangkok traffic thanks to the hospital’s new telemedicine app, Bumrungrad Anywhere. David Thomas Boucher, chief business transformation officer, revealed the features of the application at the 2019 Healthcare Asia Forum in Bangkok.

The app, which had its soft launch in April for system-testing purposes, was developed in tandem with Singapore-based medical company iDoctor, which was also responsible for creating another of Thailand’s telemedicine apps, Doctor Raksa. In November 2018, the hospital invested $3m into the Singapore medical technology firm, which also saw the latter’s CEO and founder Jaren Siew, taking on a new role in the hospital as its chief digital officer.

Once downloaded from Apple or Google Play’s stores, the app asks for users’ phone numbers and provides them with an OTP verification. Patients then enter basic information, such as name, gender, age and symptoms, to help physicians give a well-informed diagnosis and prognosis.

According to Siew, the app was designed to cut the time it takes for patients to find and speak to a doctor to less than three minutes. Once a patient chooses a doctor - ranging from neurologists to internal medicine clinicians - consultations will be conducted via video or phone call. The app so far has around 200 physicians on the platform, with an additional 1,600 doctors to onboard within the year.

“Doctors could be at the hospital, they could be offsite, they could be somewhere else, or they could be in a clinic,” Siew told Healthcare Asia. Each 15-minute consultation will charge users $15 (THB500), which he highlighted, will be “shocking to the market.”

“I think most people expect to pay $200 when coming to Bumrungrad. We want to show people that we’re interested in providing a good service for everyone. And once we are capable of delivering a good quality service at a reasonable price point, we will do it,” he underlined.

Existing Bumrungrad patients can also gain access to their medical history through the app, on top of its existing consultation features. But the app is not just exclusive to Bumrungrad’s existing patients, as new patients, even from beyond Thailand’s borders, can also receive consultation from the hospital’s physicians.

Siew noted that since the app’s launch in April, over 200 consultations have already been conducted with patients as far as Myanmar.

On-the-go pharmacy
In tandem with the app’s consultation services, Bumrungrad also launched its first retail pharmacy that delivers prescription medicine to a patient’s location at a click of a button. Boucher highlighted that the hospitals’ network of motorcycles will deliver the medication within a 10 km radius of the hospital’s location in downtown Bangkok. The hospital is reportedly looking to expand the pharmacy’s scope to cover the rest of the greater Bangkok area in the near future.

Given how the app is still in its early stages, Boucher noted that it will see further enhancements in the coming months, and expand to include services such as pre and post-surgery follow-ups and second opinions.

Whilst the app may be seen as greatly beneficial for patients, especially those living in the rural parts of Thailand, Boucher highlighted that such telemedicine apps can also alleviate the pressure placed on healthcare professionals as the technology enables healthcare service delivery regardless of their location.

“Practitioners are able to provide care in the convenience of their offices, and professionals don’t have to drive hours to provide care to others,” he noted.

“Think about if you're in a position, and you're in your car in a traffic jam in Bangkok, and there's total gridlock for an hour. You can flip open your laptop or your iPad, and you potentially could see two or three patients whilst you're sitting there,” Boucher explained, adding how it could reduce opportunity costs associated with traffic jams. “Also, if you're on the consumer side, and you're in traffic - whether you're in Manila or in Bangkok - if you're stuck in a traffic jam for 30 or 45 to 50 minutes, you can actually complete a visit right through your iPhone or iPad or Samsung. You can utilise that time much more productively, and we think this is what consumers want.”

He further highlighted how telemedicine apps can serve as an extension to where the global consumerisation trend is going, where the world’s rapidly growing ‘instaculture’ demands services - from food to transport to medicine - arrive at a mere push of a button.

“This is not necessarily about making a huge profit off of providing primary here, not only in Bangkok, in Chiang Mai and Phuket, and other parts of the country, but it's about creating stickiness with consumers. We think this is it's a real positive development, and we're excited about the future,” Boucher concluded. 

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