This startup is bringing vacant Southeast Asian hospital rooms into the sharing economy • TechCrunch
Uber and Airbnb have long been the flagships of the sharing economy. In other areas of society, entrepreneurs are also trying to match demand with untapped assets and services. High Definitiona Bangkok-based startup, applies the business model to healthcare in Southeast Asia.
HD operates a platform that allows three parties to come together: surgeons in private practice, patients seeking lower cost surgery, and vacant operating rooms in hospitals. The model may seem a bit counterintuitive to Westerners, but Southeast Asia’s medical system relies on a very different patient-hospital dynamic.
Sheji Ho, co-founder and CEO of HD, got the idea when he saw Thai surgeons advertising on Facebook to attract private clients. Dual practice is “very common” for doctors in Southeast Asia, observed Ho, who previously co-founded the Southeast Asia eCommerce Facilitator aCommerce.
“They graduate working for the best hospitals, but they are poorly paid, so they also work in private hospitals where they receive money,” he said in an interview.
In Southeast Asia, people go straight to the hospital when they get sick. The problem with public hospitals, Ho says, is that they have very long lines, so doctors try to lure patients to the private facilities where they work. “Doctors [in the region] are kind of like merchants that operate on different platforms,” he says.
Forty percent of healthcare expenditure in Southeast Asia was paid out of pocket in 2018, according to the World Health Organization, compared to 29.8% in Europe and 32.4% in the Americas. As there is no central platform providing cost transparency, patients often end up paying a high price.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, swaths of surgeon’s rooms suddenly became free as Thailand, a popular destination for medical tourism, lost international patients. The oversupply was exacerbated by the country’s pre-pandemic hospital building spree, Ho noted, as the government bet on an aging population and rising land values.
“Organically, hospitals wanted to use our platforms,” Ho says. And since HD brings them customers, they can negotiate lower room rates. Patients undergoing surgeries such as thyroid, hemorrhoids and HD orthopedic surgery pay 15-20% less than market prices.
Why not provide a meeting point for all these needs? This is how HD launched its surgery service under the private label HDcare two months ago. The platform is now based on supplying more than 20 operating rooms across Thailand and Indonesia, according to Ho, with the potential to access more than 1,500 healthcare providers already on its platform. form, and has over 40 types of surgeries lined up. The plan is to expand the service to 200 surgeries performed per quarter by the fourth quarter of 2023.
Amazon for Health Services
HD’s surgery platform is a new addition to its established business, a marketplace for outpatient services. The model has proven itself in the massive healthcare market in neighboring countries Chinawhere JD.com, Alibaba’s big domestic rivalruns a similar e-commerce operation selling third-party health services such as vaccinations, checkups, imaging sessions, and minor surgeries.
The lack of primary care in Southeast Asia means people have to ask friends for referrals or make multiple hospital rounds before they find the right doctor and the right treatment.
This is in contrast to the United States, where 75% of adults had primary care physicians as of 2015 to treat common ailments and are referred to hospitals only for urgent and specialized treatment.
Like Airbnb, HD has started integrating hospitals and clinics through many heavy lifting, like helping customers set up their product pages. “But it’s also our fluke,” Ho says. “SaaS is still too early for Southeast Asia.”
HD takes a share of transactions and charges registration fees to healthcare providers, similar to how a conventional e-commerce platform monetizes. It also offers healthcare marketing solutions to vendors on its platform, similar to how Amazon Ads and Tmall Ads enable brands to increase reach and performance.
The liability of platform operators is an ongoing debate in the tech industry, and a company that could influence health seems to make the issue even trickier. As a marketplace, HD does not handle disputes in general; in beauty where the experience can be more “subjective,” HD takes a similar approach to Amazon where it “puts patients first, reimburses customers, and deals directly with vendors,” says the founder.
“In general, HD prioritizes short-duration, minimally invasive elective surgeries that have low throughput variation, such as thyroid and hemorrhoid surgery, in addition to outpatient procedures.”
Since its inception four years ago, HD has served approximately 250,000 patients. It has seen 7x sales growth during the pandemic and aims to maintain its growth rate at 2-3x in post-COVID years.
Optimism in recession
While the pandemic is weighs on the global economy, Ho is optimistic about his own business. “Every time a recession started, we saw certain companies take off. They were taking advantage of the oversupply. Groupon was taking advantage of restaurant oversupply, and for Airbnb it was vacant homes,” he suggests.
“So as we enter the recession there is enough opportunity – hospitals sitting on excess rooms. We have a window of two to three years to rapidly develop this part of the business.
Despite encouraging signs of growth, HD’s fundraising got off to a bad start. As the pandemic swept the world, investors turned to telemedicine startups as the default healthcare solution. Ho disagrees with the presumption.
“Telehealth works well in the Western market. Basically, you’re talking to the GP [general physician]you get a prescription and you go to Walgreens to get your antibodies, which require a prescription,” he says.
“But in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, you can get this level of medicine from pharmacies. [over the counter]removing the need for telehealth.
Investors are now realizing the potential of HD, which enables offline medical providers to have digital platforms rather than compete with them. The startup recently closed a $6 million funding round from Partech Partners, M Venture Partners, AC Ventures, iSeed, and Orvel Ventures. He is also part of a recent batch accepted into the Google for Startups Accelerator Southeast Asia program.