As part of the startup Interview series, we are going to interview Mrs. Mirela Meita from Digital Clincs, a Romanian telehealth startup offering a telemedicine platform that complements the medical services provided in clinics or hospitals, allowing patients to be close to doctors, anywhere and anytime.
Mirela, thanks for taking the time to catch up with us. Can you briefly outline the company’s story, what is Digital Clinics’ key goal? Who are the founders and how it all became what it is today?
The Digital Clinics’ story started in April 2020. However, I remember being frustrated by the lack of online medical services for years, because my daughters have been studying in the UK since 2010 and whenever they needed light medical advice which did not need a medical visit, they would call me, I then called a doctor friend who then called their specialized doctor friends. It was a long process for me and for the doctors as well. And I know I am not the only one in this situation. I remember thinking how useful a telemedicine service would be for all the parties involved, but until recently it was only wishful thinking.
Then, this thought became a real necessity in April 2020 when, like in the rest of Europe, we could not move except to buy food because of the pandemic. And, as it happens, it was then when you started having minor health issues which you wanted to discuss with doctors. But, there was no one to discuss them with because medical clinics were closed and the hospitals were open only for emergencies or for those with major health problems. I looked on their websites for online appointments and there were very few options. The major private medical institutions were offering online medical consultations but the process of registering and talking to a doctor was not user-friendly and sometimes took a few days.
It was then when I started thinking that there was a major gap on the market for an independent online medical clinic, that would be easy to use for both doctors and patients and that enabled people to get medical advice from a variety of doctors from a variety of fields, hospitals, and countries. This was the moment I started talking to my four partners.
Since then, we launched Digital Clinics in July 2020 in beta form. Now our goal is to bring the medical expertise of doctors in Romania to the people who need it. The next level is to bring the expertise of international doctors to English-speaking patients. The platform started as a Romanian telemedicine platform, but in August 2021 we will launch the English page which will give us access to international doctors and patients.
What kind of products and services does your company offer?
Digital Clinics offers video medical consultations with doctors, psychotherapists, and wellbeing services that can be done online. We also provide medical news regarding different pathologies and information about preventing them.
A medical appointment lasts 20 minutes, meaning that you can speak with a doctor for 20 minutes and 50 minutes with a psychotherapist. The patients can also send messages (chat) to doctors, upload their previous medical records and receive a medical report at the end of the appointment.
We believe in a holistic approach to medicine and this is why we recently added the wellbeing page – kinesitherapy, yoga, tai chi, and qigong – for an all-round experience. The mind, actually the peace of mind, in a medical condition is something as important as the treatment itself. We wanted to be there for the patients and to cover as many of their needs as possible.
What’s the latest progress in the project, and what are you focusing on right now?
Right now, we are focusing on launching the English page of Digital Clinics. Some of our doctors are practicing medicine in Italy, Switzerland, or Luxembourg and they asked us if they can have access to an English page of the platform in order to have appointments with international patients. We thought it was an excellent idea and we started developing it.
What pain of your customers are you helping solve? What is your company’s offering and what kind of customers and partners are you looking for?
We strive to make it easier for patients to chat to doctors from the comfort of their own homes, while avoiding commutes, disrupted workdays, etc. Now we are used to doing everything from the comfort of our homes: shopping, working and even dating. Why not solve our medical issues too?
Also, as we all know a standard medical consultation became shorter and shorter and sometimes a doctor has less than 10 minutes for a consultation: assessing the information, making up his mind about diagnoses and writing a medical report. And, at the end of the appointment, we still have lots of questions but the appointment is over too soon.
Therefore, a second opinion and a 20-minute chat with a doctor about our concerns would be a relief. Understanding our health issues means that we can better cope with the associated stress and the necessary treatments.
What differentiates Digital Clinics’ from its competitors?
I think what makes us different is the access to doctors working internationally, as well as our holistic approach to medicine. In a nutshell, we offer an all-round experience: you can talk to a doctor about your health issues, calm your mind with a psychotherapist and practice physiotherapy if you need it, or meditate if you think it helps.
We have not focused on the competition so much, so I am not sure if I answered this question right. We are very much focused on our patients’ and doctors’ needs and we are developing the platform according to their feedback and demands. In this way, we can respond directly to our most valuable resources which are the doctors and patients.
To sum up, what differentiates us in the market is our global and holistic approach and the focus on all-round health needs – doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and the wellbeing part which is equally as important.
Do you use AI technology in your product? How does it work for you?
Not yet. We are still at the very beginning, but we are constantly monitoring AI developments, new technologies coming into the market, and speaking to experts. When the moment is right and based on the feedback of our doctors we will start adding AI facilities to the platform. Luckily, the platform was developed in such a way that it will be easy to add an AI function.
Do you have any projects related to COVID-19 research? If so, can you explain how your product is contributing to a global fight against coronavirus?
No. We are focused on the long-term needs of our doctors and patients.
What is your business model and how are you planning to get early customers onboard? Have you already raised money for your operations and building the platform?
I think people use services to improve their lives so we are focused on building a product that adds value to people’s lives. In our case, this means helping people access international medical expertise and prescriptions from wherever they live, giving doctors the possibility of setting their own fees and hours, and making wellness facilities available on the same platform – all in exchange for a small commission fee.
Our clients at Digital Clinics are both our doctors and our patients. Our goal is to build trust among them (trust for doctors that they will be paid, trust for patients that they are talking to a well-qualified doctor, that their medical record is safe, and that they will have their questions answered quickly.)
With a robust foundation of the business, the next step is to build an efficient communication campaign on various channels. My expertise in communication and in brand awareness makes this straightforward.
What milestones have you had in fundraising and where are you now?
We are still supporting the platform financially; we did not start seeking investments yet. For now, we have had the advantage of benefiting from organic growth from our network of doctors but we are now looking into raising money for a digital advertising campaign that would reach our target customers. But, when we will start looking for investors, we will not only look for money, but also for a trusted partner who can bring new expertise to the team.
What was it like growing your team? What are the challenges and surprises you encountered? What tips do you have for building a solid team?
Putting together a team for this project wasn’t an easy task. Although I have developed teams and managed people in various businesses before, the digital health tech industry is still an infant industry, which challenged me more than usual. This doesn’t mean that people lack expertise, but sometimes we did not correctly assess the job description, because we are learning as we are going to. There is no model on the market, there are no trained people with previous experience.
Tips: do not hire big teams for different tasks. You will realize that what you thought you needed is different from what the market is asking for and the expertise of the people has to be different and then you have to let them go. Hire slowly and adapt the staff expertise to the market requests.
What are your company’s plans for the future, your major dream in 2021?
We plan to expand internationally in 2021 and to continue building up trust among doctors and patients. Trust in this business is crucial. Trust from patients that they are speaking with accredited doctors, trust that their medical records are safe, trust from doctors that they will be paid according to the contract and that their expertise is valued.
What do you think about the business climate in Romania and in the EU in general?
I think both in Romania and in the EU we have all the basic conditions to start and develop a business – from the necessary fiscal regulations and an educated labor force which are critical for a tech business.
To summarize our interview, I would like to ask your opinion about the future of the HealthTech industry, especially considering the impact of pandemics and all this economic turbulence.
I think health tech will develop tremendously because it will greatly improve people’s lives. Some studies are quoting that in more than 50% of medical appointments you do not need to physically see the doctor. So, this is the potential market – the TAM (total addressable market) can be huge.
Also, at a personal level, I can see a difference, compared to other businesses I started in the past. I founded a media venture in 2012 and an art project in 2015 and there was not so much interest even around my friends, which I think represents a good market indicator. But with this new venture, everyone around is asking something, wanting to know more about online medical consultations.
It is a slow process because a habit of hundreds of years has to change, but once people will realize its benefits, they will start using telemedicine like they are using messages – it will come naturally. The silver lining of the pandemic is that people have become much more comfortable in introducing technology in their personal lives. The resistance to change exists, but people will slowly adapt. And this will give us the time to improve our services and to better adapt to our clients’ needs.