First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
My husband and I have been isolated even from relatives because we live in Spain and everyone else is in Moldova, so we had minimal contact with people during the pandemic, definitely worked, we are both healthy and working more than before the pandemic.
I’m lucky to have only distant relatives infected by COVID-19 and all surviving it… Everyone else was thoroughly instructed with my and my husband’s efforts to stay home and be safe. I must say it was not easy to convince many of them to take the virus seriously, but with time and persistence, we succeeded.
By the way, the distant relatives are all medical professionals in the front line. I have learned from them, the main reason why they got infected – was that they had not been given adequate protection, and the government did not take protection of medical staff in Moldova seriously.
Economically, we are lucky to be in the IT sector. Even with some shifts, IT did experience growth, other sectors not so well, for example, my mother had to close her store and was completely dependant on our support for 3 months, she was lucky, others, I’m sure many were less fortunate, especially people living in a more fragile economy, or even in less supportive government.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company
We founded the startup with my husband, then-boyfriend.
I always was passionate about health and medical related topics, and while I was traveling with filming and scouting projects in Asia and Africa I have experienced these destinations in an unique way. I was curious about what illnesses people deal with in different countries, how they get treatment and what methods they use, and what limitations they experience. It always made me wonder why treatment information is so scattered and limited on the internet, and is expensive and risky to actually find out where you can get treatments.
Integrative and advanced medicine is not available in most countries, only rich countries can afford to implement good healthcare systems, and for more than half of the population of our planet (I talk about Asia, Africa and South America) traveling to neighboring countries for even a simple procedure is a norm. I know that well, Moldovans also live in this reality, and often if they have a more serious health issue the destination is Germany, France, Israel, Turkey.
Still… Medical Tourism looks like Tourism in the 90s, expensive travel agencies charging thousands for giving you a list of 3 clinics that offer treatment you need. Imagine today travel without the internet, without Trip Advisor, Booking.com or AirBnB? Well, medical tourism soon will be a bigger and more expensive market than the tourism market. You do pay more for a treatment trip than for a holiday on average, yet it still relies on old and limited in many ways. Even basic information like what Hospitals and Clinics offer treatment you need is sparsely available on the internet, the quality of procedures is really hard to find out and the prices are always a mystery, often ending up an over budget expense for the patients.
All this bothered me, I mean it got me mad, it feels unfair, because I was the unlucky patient and often experienced the bad parts of medical tourism, the lack of information, no way to find out the quality of the procedure, and having surprise prices, even for me, experienced in research – it was a hard task, I had to rely on people’s insights and recommendations, and these are generally more miss than hit.
Discussing this topic with my husband as he is a very talented developer, we decided to build a solution for some of these problems, especially focusing on delivering treatment information to anyone online.
How does your company innovate?
Our main focus is understanding the patients and the medical institutions, and finding ways to connect them with each other. Medical Tourism and Healthcare, in particular, is a very complex market, and for an average patient, the information can be overwhelming and outright not accessible. We focus on understanding the patient’s journey and helping them to do it, simpler, faster, cheaper. For example, usually, to find a medical institution that provides treatment you need abroad sometimes takes weeks, especially when you contact someone to help you provide that information. We handle patient requests on live chat and create information packages for most seeked treatments, so next time our user doesn’t have to ask anything it just can search and find treatment information in one click.
Our goal is to serve everyone, this is why we provide treatment information for over 4000 institutions from over 100 countries, where you can find which medical institutions provide treatment you need, in a given country and you can talk to them directly from the platform or reach out in one click.
Our platform is not just a listing, we understand the process of communication and interaction between patient and Medical Institutions and provide all they need to do online, search, communicate, ask questions, talk to peers. The platform is a community open platform which means all listings for Medical Institutions are listed for free (which is not practised in medical tourism) they can administer and interact with their patients through the platform, and also they can publish treatment information for free.
The platform is patient oriented, which means that all the features and how it functions – revolves around one goal, help patients find treatment, get in touch with medical institutions and communicate with other patients.
We focus on patient safety, for example in the context of Pandemic every listing features the COVID-19 Statistics to help patients to understand if it’s safe to travel to these Medical Institutions, also we provide border information to help patients know where and when they can travel.
Telemedicine for all.
Nowadays telemedicine is talked about by everyone and few of our patients use it, where is it then? It is known that only developed countries and patients in specific insurance and healthcare networks can benefit from Telemedicine today, this amounts to very small numbers of people using telemedicine when it’s needed. The rest are stuck at home reading blogs on how to deal with your health issues at home, not the best option I must say.
We want Telemedicine not to be an addon to rich and lucky, we want telemedicine to be for everyone and anyone, this is where we participated at Hackathon #EUvsVirus with our solution for Telemedicine in medical tourism Tele.MedicalTourism.Review
Where any user can schedule a video consultation with any Medical Institution abroad or in their home country. The feedback from medical mentors was amazing, they were excited to see that someone is doing telemedicine for Medical Tourism because no one does it so far.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
The pandemic affected our business immediately the first news of virus spreading beyond the borders of China, as medical tourism to Asia has halted overnight, our partners from Thailand, India and other Asian countries warned us that they cave mass cancelations for treatments in next 2 months, in 2 weeks Medical tourism halted consecutively in Europe, with first Italian news, and America’s Medical Tourism followed suit in a week. Most of our clients have told us they are forced to close because they don’t have enough patients to operate, or that the threat of Virus infection is too costly for their clinic and can cause bankruptcy, for a medical institution that is not backed by government money. This way in a month all our customers stopped their payments until the pandemic stops.
These events threw our operations off track, the medical tourism has stopped but patient requests have not. During the pandemic, many medical institutions closed, and because they did not have telemedicine set in-place, patients stayed isolated at home unable to reach medical support for months, in many cases asking us for help with severe complications and illnesses.
Many medical institutions are silent until today which leaves a big number of patients unable to even reach Hospitals that are open. Now we are focused on helping patients reach medical support online, establishing the connection to clinics and helping them to reach each other.
Our financial situation is precarious, at the moment we are trying to survive while pivoting to a new model which will help us get started before the pandemic effects will list from Medical Tourism.
After months of talking to patients from different parts of the world we realised that the pandemic showed a huge gap that exists in Medical Tourism, is that most of the patients in the world have internet but have no online access to medical support, this is when we decided that Telemedicine has to become a part of our platform helping patients reaching medical support online from anywhere. Now we are working on implementing these solutions on our platform. Also because safety in pandemic times are one of our main priority we have implemented and launched a number of features helping patients to get contextual information about the virus statistics in a given country and their border control directly on the Medical Institution listing page where our user can understand easily whether is safe to travel to this Medical Institution and when they can travel.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
A: Our team had to make choices as any business today had to, we have been working remotely from the start, so for us there was no changes in our work routine, yet our clients have been unable to operate and many Medical Institutions have been closed, it was difficult to see how many patients did not get our support because we did not have enough people on board to talk and answer their questions, but I guess we are doing best is possible in the circumstances.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and your company in the future?
A: I must admit that this is not a battle we are winning always, but even if we had down days, I believe it is normal in these conditions to feel scared, and anxious about what will be next. I’m sure everyone has had to deal with problems on all sides, we worry for our family’s safety and their problems. We want to protect them and support them, but at the same time for me our company is my second family. And patients, especially when they are calling for help, it’s distressing in the least, it’s human to feel overwhelmed in these situations. Yet I always try not to get stuck in this feeling for long, I just use it as fuel to think about what I can do to solve the problem, when you’re busy fighting for solutions you have less time to feel anxious and less time to feel powerless. We had no time, we organised national Online Hackathons for Moldova (against COVID-19), we participated in hackathons with our team to build solutions for Medical Tourism. We spent all our time in showing people how not to give up, teaching them how to organise, understand the problems they face and how to solve them, and their success made us feel powerful in the face of adversity, it fuels our spirits, it taught us so much, never in our life we’ve learned so much like in these few months during pandemic.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
We don’t really have direct competitors, we have to walk the path first, because no one has attempted to build an open community platform for Medical Tourists globally. Yet we have many indirect competitors that focus on supporting medical travelers in specific regions or focus on more medical institutions’ side, yet the medical tourism market is still in it’s growing stage, and we believe that collaboration will help us grow a stronger and more healthy market and allow us to build more resilient support for patients.
Our solutions are inclusive, we help patients find treatment and travel support locally, and we collaborate with most organisations to help patients get the support they need.
Your final thoughts
We live in difficult times, what’s happening to us now is the first time in our life, unprecedented, unknown, dark matter, outright scary sometimes. For most people, this is very uncomfortable, and let’s not ignore the rest of the world, the economic impact is left on the shoulders of unlucky many that do not have choices or opportunities to lift themselves out of their circumstances. We are the lucky few, and I believe that our responsibility is to build solutions that are inclusive. My dream is to make medical support more accessible to anyone and to everyone, and no pandemic or crisis will stop me on my track, it will just mean we will have to change course.
Even if you are suffering in many ways from the consequences of the pandemic, remember, there are many less fortunate, think about them, appreciate the fact that you are the lucky one, do something to help others. Sure you can’t solve all the problems in the world, but big changes come one step at the time. Today business and startups are not just about making money, for me it’s a way to make this world better, help people, support, enable, encourage, give the opportunities they do not have otherwise. I can’t say it is easy, but in my opinion, it is harder to give up. To see how unequal and unfair this world is and doing nothing about it, is impossible for me. I choose the path of possibilities, in every problem an inspiration in discovering new ways, new opportunities, to enjoy support and collaboration, when we are united with people working for the same goal and the same result.
Your website https://medicaltourism.review/