Doctor on Call: The start-up on a big mission

“Doctors are meant to save lives, but getting to one, especially with a long-standing sickness, can be very strenuous on the patient,” says Dr Brian Kimani.

In 2014, Brian broke his leg and had to make frequent trips to hospital for physiotherapy. The trips were terribly inconvenient, but he survived them.

Two years later, his grandmother, who was living with a lifestyle illness, had to regularly travel from Kiambu, where she lived, to seek medical attention in Nairobi. The trips took a lot out of Brian’s grandmother, who died late last year.

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After she died, Brian resolved to work at making medical care accessible to people all over Kenya as conveniently as possible.

That led to the birth of his company, Doctor On Call, which locates the nearest doctor to a patient and offers a home consultation service.

Though Brian is based in Isiolo, the service is currently available in Nairobi and Mombasa. Brian speaks to Hustle about his ‘doctor delivery’ service.

How does Doctor on Call work?

It’s actually like any other delivery service.

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A patient goes to our web platform, www.doc-ke.com, and requests a doctor; they can either ask for a home visit or an online diagnosis.

If they ask for a home visit, the application connects them to the nearest doctor. The patient makes a payment using their mobile phone – payment is up front and into an account.

How many doctors have you registered on the platform?

Currently, we have 150 doctors registered with us. When we started, we had 50, most of whom were friends or colleagues that I’d run the idea by.

The immediate challenge we had was that our system worked in a way that didn’t pay doctors up front or promise them a salary.

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Essentially, they were working on a ‘commission’ base, paid per patient seen. Not all doctors understood this concept of an online doctor on call because it was very new in Kenya. The idea has become more palatable over time.

How do you ensure the doctors you have on your system are legitimate?

We do extensive vetting on all doctors who register with us. All legitimate doctors have a Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board registration number and licence. The details recorded are quite extensive, including where the doctor studied and interned.

We carry out our own investigation after that, seeking out their senior doctors and peers to give us references.

What’s the experience level of your doctors?

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The age bracket ranges from 23 to 60. So we have new ones just starting out and the highly experienced ones as well. We’re steadily building our database.

Doctors are not charged to be on our platform and they only respond to calls that they are available for, so it’s extremely convenient for them.

Do your doctors respond to all types of calls, including emergencies?

Absolutely. We offer services from emergencies and long-term care for chronic illnesses where a patient needs consistent medical care, to ambulance services where patients need immediate evacuation to a hospital.

Our platform also has a medication reminder service for people on long-term drugs that alerts them by phone or personal visits when it’s time to take their medicine and when to restock.

How do you make your money?

We charge consultation fees and also get paid by pharmaceutical companies who would like us to prescribe their brands or promote new drugs in the market to patients.

Of course, we only prescribe medication with the patients’ best interests at heart. But say, for instance, a painkiller is in the market and a pharmaceutical company wants us to promote it, we would carry their brand over another brand that does the same thing.

Our consultation fees are Sh1,000 in low-peak times and Sh1,500 for peak times.

Typically, the cold season is a peak season because of communicable illnesses like flus and respiratory complications. Holiday seasons are also high seasons as people tend to travel a lot and with children at home, there are more instances of injuries.

How much money did it take you to build your website?

The total start-up came to approximately Sh250,000, which included building the website, marketing, doing a pilot study and other administrative costs.

Our first year attracted a turnover of Sh1.5 million. By the end of 2018, we’d turned over Sh2.2 million.

It was growth, but we can do much better once we completely settle. I anticipate that we will turnover Sh5 million by end of this year, especially once we have our mobile application going; we’re currently only operating the website.

What have been your biggest challenges?

I would say getting an adequate number of doctors on board. We’re still working on that. Right now in Nairobi, we have at least 15 doctors per every two-kilometre radius. In Mombasa, we have 25 doctors signed on.

Our other challenge has been responding to emergencies. We have had to temporarily disable the emergency line because we were overrun by calls, many of which were not true emergencies. We’re working on how to streamline that and should be up and running by the end of this month.

Another challenge facing emergencies is getting ambulances to respond to calls within the least time possible.

Right now, most ambulance companies will respond within 25 to 45 minutes, depending on distance and traffic. We need more ambulances in the country so that this call time reduces to 10 to 15 minutes. In an emergency, 45 minutes can mean the difference between life and death.

How have you coped in the past with long response times in emergencies?

We talk the caller through initial first aid. For instance, if a baby is choking, we instruct the caller on how to mitigate the situation before our doctor on call or emergency services get to them.

What’s your vision for Doctor On Call?

We want to scale up so that at least 80 per cent of the Kenyan population can get access to medical care through us.

I believe this will be possible, especially as we’re in talks on a potential investment of Sh2 million.

The capital injection and the expertise and networks an investor would bring to the table will definitely give us a much needed leg up.

What are some of the other services you offer?

We offer antenatal care at Sh5,000, psychotherapy at Sh1,000 per hour, home delivery at Sh10,000, vaccinations, nursing home care and several other tailor-made packages.

We understand that medical care can be expensive, we also understand that it’s a basic human need, and so we aim to bring the two together.

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