Technology opens new opportunities for patients and doctors to use a Web portal to connect with specialists all over the world.
Finding a doctor used to be a frustrating experience for people with serious or chronic health conditions, especially if they lived in small communities where specialists were scarce.
The internet has helped to erase the distance between patients and the specialists they need. Most leading hospital websites have comprehensive “find a doctor” services, but one entrepreneur believes people should be able to use the Web to contact doctors worldwide.
The appeal of web technology with the “recommend” features of a social network, and his long experience in a private international hospital inspired Ruben Toral to create Medeguide.com – a portal to link patients and doctors around the world without boundaries.
Medeguide gives users various channels to search for doctors based on country, hospital, speciality and procedure, the ability to compare doctors at different hospitals, the option to request appointments, and the ability to recommend a favourite doctor or “Like” on Facebook.
Each day, millions of people go online to search for healthcare providers and treatment options. But most are overwhelmed by the amount of information available, said Mr Toral, a healthcare marketing professional with 17 years of experience in the field.
Mr Toral sees the portal functioning in much the same way that Trip Advisor, a popular travel portal, helps people plan holidays.
Doctor-related information is provided by the doctors themselves or the hospitals where they work. All doctors obtain patient permission and no data are taken from other websites.
However, the site will not neither endorse any doctor listed on the site, nor will it provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Mr Toral said more than 200,000 users have visited the site. It currently has 2,500 doctors from 30 leading hospitals in 10 countries. The figure is projected to increase to between 10,000 and 15,000 doctors in 20 to 25 countries this year.
Fifteen to 20 hospitals in Thailand are using the website including Bumrungrad International, Bangkok Hospital, Vejthani, and Yanhee, with 500 a total of doctors.
Mr Toral said his company planned to raise up to US$5 million to expand business once the site can reach the targeted figure, enabling it to earn annual fees for postings from doctors or hospitals as well as potential revenue from online advertising.
The website enables individual doctors to promote their services and post information to the public as well as attract new patients.
“This can open up the opportunity for the local medical tourism industry, which has attracted between 1.2 million and 1.4 million medical tourists per year,” Mr Toral said.
For the consumer, he said, the abundance of information on the web has led to price competition in the medical services field. “I’m confident that this trend could be a big hit with mass adoption over the next 12-18 months.”
Mr Toral said globalisation and rising consumer empowerment because of the internet are transforming the healthcare business. The explosive growth of mobile devices and the proliferation of wireless applications will only hasten the trend.
This also opens new opportunities for treatment, which is leading to the growing sophistication of telemedecine. No matter where a patient is located, he or she potentially has access to the best possible medical advice and treatment, said Vatsun Thirapatarapong, general manager for commercial business of Cisco Systems Thailand.
“Video communication is a key stepping stone to bridging the healthcare gap between those in big cities and upcountry,” he said.
Cisco is in talks with Siriraj Hospital and King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital to use its tele-consulting system. This would allow doctors in Bangkok to mentor their peers in remote hospitals and provide consulting and training, especially in specialist and complicated cases.
The availability of high-capacity computing, high-speed internet and high-definition displays is fast improving the quality of remote doctor visits. Procedures such as blood pressure checks and heartbeat monitoring can be done at one site and the data sent online to expert specialists who can analyse the results and hold realtime discussions with doctors and their patients.
For example, Bangkok Hospital Nakhon Ratchasima uses teleconsulting to connect with cancer specialists at Wattanosoth Hospital in Bangkok. The system allows doctors to discuss cases via video link and share CT scan information among other features.
However, Mr Vatsun said there were regulatory constraints on sharing patient data online. As well, the lack of a high-speed nationwide internet network is impeding the adoption of tele-consulting.