From having to leave your desk to get lunch to having to wait to get a manicure, technology is eliminating most of life’s little inconveniences one by one by connecting us with service providers on demand. A slightly more serious inconvenience a number of Australian startups have emerged looking to tackle this year is that of the time we waste in the doctor’s waiting room. We’ve all been there: sick with a cold, knowing that there’s nothing much the doctor can do for us, but having to wait for two hours anyway just to get a medical certificate to hand in to the boss the next day. As much as we hate it as patients, doctors do too.
Dr Sicknote is a startup looking to do its part to solve this problem. Launched last week by Melbourne doctor and entrepreneur Dr Sachin Patel, the startup allows users suffering minor or routine ailments to obtain medical certificates online through a Skype consultation with a GP, freeing up space in the waiting room for those who actually need a doctor’s attention.
While Patel said his first concern as a doctor will always be patient safety, he said the idea for the platform came from knowing that common ailments often arise in medical centres that put pressure on busy doctors, unwell patients, and the healthcare system itself.
“You see those things daily and when you’ve seen something almost every day for a number of years, it becomes apparent that we need to find solutions for it. This is finding solutions to try and help patients, doctors and Medicare make the best use of their time and resources by giving online access to some medical services where it’s appropriate,” Patel said.
The platform, the development of which was self funded by Patel, works by having a user register, complete a e-consultation or online form similar to those they would fill out at a physical medical centre, and then have a video consultation with a GP. The service costs $19.99, and sees a medical certificate delivered to the user via email by 6pm. If applicable, users can also use the service to obtain a repeat referral letter for a specialist.
At the moment, with the startup having just launched, Patel is handling consultations, but has a network of doctors ready to come on board when demand calls for it.
Patel isn’t alone in the space with Dr Sicknote, however, with a number of players emerging in telemedicine. Gosford startup Doctus works in much the same way, connecting patients with doctors online to have prescriptions filled and delivered for a consultation fee of $25. While it’s focused on this space for the moment, Doctus is looking to expand into providing other services online, such as the issuing of medical certificates. Another startup in the space is The Medic, a participant in the second NRMA Jumpstart accelerator intake, which offers medical certificates and referral letters for a fee of $35. Yet another is ReadyCare, an initiative backed by Telstra.
While these startups have either built up a substantial user base or have significant backing behind them, Patel doesn’t see them as competition.
“I wouldn’t even call it competition. I’d call it co-habitation. The reason is, we’ve got to think about our outcome, and our outcome is that we want to create new ways of working that suit patient needs so that we can improve the health of our patients. When you think from that angle, then really it’s about learning from each other, to deliver what patients want and need in a safe manner,” he said.
“From the medical point of view, it’s about putting the best heads together to get the best outcomes, so that’s my mission. I have no qualms or fears about competition, I’m happy to work with anyone to get the outcomes that we want in making a difference. If we can make this difference, we can save a big barrel of Medicare which can then be used to help more people with more important needs than certification and referral.”
Lightening the burden faced by Medicare – and it is a heavy burden, with the equivalent of around 9.5 percent of Australia’s GDP spent on healthcare in 2013/14 – is Patel’s main goal.
“In those situations where you know you’re going to get better, and you know that there’s not really much a doctor can help you with…the doctors are often quite busy and maybe their time could be better spent on someone they could make more of a difference with. Medicare pays $37 [for a consultation], so you’ve got a situation where doctors could have spent doing something more for someone else. You’ve got yourself wishing you could’ve spent that time in bed and the government spending a sum of money,” Patel said.
Telemedicine is not, as of yet, supported by the government in terms of Medicare rebates; the $19.99 fee a customer pays through Dr Sicknote is an out of pocket expense. However, Patel believes that telemedicine provides a perfect opportunity for government to, in the words of Prime Minister Turnbull, act as an exemplar and lead the way when it comes to embracing innovation to cut red tape and do things better.
Patel said, “There are opportunities there to use our resources better and that’s very important.”