Why can’t booking a doctor’s appointment be as easy as ordering a pizza online? Brussels-based start-up Doctena is raising 4.5 million to achieve that ambition.
Studies have shown that a patient spends an average of eight minutes recording a doctor’s visit over the phone. “But that’s theory,” says Patrick Kersten, CEO and founder of Brussels-based start-up Doctena. ‘In reality, most people invariably call the doctor between eight and ten o’clock. This creates a bottleneck that leaves you hanging on hold for several minutes.’
Founded in 2013, the start-up aims to reduce that time-consuming and frustrating process to three clicks. The Brussels-based mobile app or desktop application allows patients to choose a doctor according to specialty, language and practice area. Then they are given a list of available time slots, after choosing a time, the appointment is registered with the doctor. Patients also receive a notification when their appointment is approaching.
According to the Brusselers, the market for doctor appointments is up to six times larger than the market for online travel bookings and up to 20 times larger than that for restaurant reservations. ‘But while those markets are now mature, the market for online medical appointments is still in its infancy. “Barely 3 percent of medical appointments are made online, compared to 55 percent for travel tickets.
According to Doctena, there is no reason why we all won’t soon be arranging our doctor’s appointments with an app. Doctors are sometimes reluctant to switch. ‘You will always find that some are more interested in new technology than others. But one constant is that those who have used the system do not want to go back. It becomes part of their daily routine.
But won’t a system in which the first contact between doctor and patient is digitized lead to medical overconsumption?
‘People don’t go to the doctor for fun,’ Kersten ripostes. ‘The age group that uses our app the most is between 20 and 45. These are very active people who, due to their busy daily activities, really appreciate being able to make a doctor’s appointment online or via mobile, just as they do for a travel booking or a cab reservation. Besides, how many doctors still arrange their appointments themselves? You didn’t study to be a doctor for 12 years and then spend hours answering phone calls.’
Kersten, a Luxembourger with Belgian roots, first launched Doctena in his home country. There, the app is now used by 15 percent of physicians. Now the app is also available in Belgium and the Netherlands, and with fresh money to back it up, Switzerland should soon be up for grabs as well. Competitors can as yet be counted on one hand in the European market.
“Healthcare is an extremely fragmented and very local market,” Kersten says. ‘In Belgium alone, you have between 15 and 20 diary administration systems for doctors. Each specialty has its own system, so to speak. That makes it very difficult for international players to enter that market.
For example, Doctena recently forged a deal with Corilus, the former software arm of Fagron, which groups some 19,000 doctors in Belgium. There are also discussions with Dentadmin, a Wetters company that has developed a software package for dentists.
‘Our strength is that we just focus on those local players, with whom we try to build good relationships.