Mohammad Ali, a 27-year old resident of Dhaka's Shahbag area, has been suffering from various ailments. On a colleague's recommendation, he decided to make an online appointment with a doctor. The appointment was made through Doctorola, an appointment service provider.
On October 13, he placed information relating to his problems on Doctorola's website and then had an appointment scheduled with Dr Ashraful Haque, a medicine specialist at the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Rehabilitation in Diabetes (Birdem) hospital. The fee charged for the visit to the specialist was Tk400.
To Ali's pleasant surprise, within five minutes of his completion of the appointment procedure, he received a call from a customer care official of Doctorola confirming the appointment.
Ali went to the doctor's chamber the next day. He was shown in after waiting for only 10 minutes.
The doctor prescribed for him medicines for 15 days after acquainting himself with his problems. Ali is satisfied with the treatment and the prompt service provided by Doctorola.
Mohammad Ali, speaking to The Business Standard, said, "I spoke to a few patients in the waiting room at the doctor's chamber. All of them had been waiting there since the morning to see the doctor. They had faced difficulties in getting an appointment while I had to wait only for 10 minutes."
A day later, Doctorola phoned him to have his feedback about its services.
The organisation makes the appointment-making process easier for patients needing medical assistance. Its popularity has been going up owing to its provision of guaranteeing appointments through mobile app, call centre and website.
Doctorola took off in 2015 with the objective of providing healthcare services through efficient management.
Before launching the start-up, the Doctorola team made a survey of the market by studying 12 hospitals. The survey found that 70 percent of patients, coming from outside Dhaka, faced problems in deciding on the specialised doctors they needed for their treatment.
"Patients from outside Dhaka are in a fix as to which doctors they can go to for particular ailments. The prime motive of Doctorola was to ease outside patients' problems by finding the best doctors for them and making appointments for them with the doctors," said Mohammad Abdul Matin Emon, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Doctorola.
"Owing to delays in getting appointments, a large number of citizens suffer a lot. Patients have developed a perception that Bangladesh does not provide good treatment. Due to a lack of management, a large number of patients go abroad for treatment. And those who cannot afford overseas treatment end up being treated it by unqualified sources."
Doctorola has service centres in 63 districts. It has renowned hospitals and doctors enlisted with it. Altogether 9,500 doctors are affiliated with Doctorola.
At Apollo hospital and Square hospital and all the way through 500 hospitals at upazila level, patients make their medical appointments through Doctorola.
The start-up handles appointments for more than 300 patients every day. It also collects samples and delivers medicines at doorsteps. Doctorola also provides insurance facilities for patients.
A total of 250,000 patients have to date received healthcare services from it. The quality of services provided by Doctorola were instrumental in its being mentioned among eight rising start-ups in Forbes magazine in 2017.
Olwel, another healthcare service, commenced its journey in 2017. It despatches doctors to patients' doorsteps in the capital.
About 45 doctors registered with the Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council are affiliated with Olwel. They provide services from 8 am till 10 pm in two shifts. Doctors give a minimum 20 minutes to each patient. Besides prescribing medicines, they also respond to questions the patients may raise.
The Olwel team also phones patients to have their feedback on the quality of the services it has provided to them. Once the medicines are prescribed for patients, their doctors call them for updates on the treatment.
The doctors are mostly professional, with their experience ranging from three to eighteen years. Patients upload their prescriptions on Olwel's website, which are later evaluated by senior doctors.
MWA Farhad, one of the entrepreneurs behind Olwel, said, "Though we started by providing patients with primary treatment facilities, we now give specialised treatment to elderly patients of over 60 years of age."
"Patients are keeping faith in us. We get phone calls from 40 to 45 percent of patients who availed our services earlier. About 20 to 25 patients on average take Orwel's services. The organisation has provided treatment to 345 dengue patients."
Besides getting treatment and having their appointments made, patients purchase their medicines online.
Oshudh.com, an online based pharmacy, takes orders for medicines. Patients upload pictures of prescriptions, following which pharmacies deliver the required medicines at their doorsteps.
Oshudh.com also has a 24-hour hotline number through which patients can order medicines for themselves. The service provider delivers medicines without charging any delivery fees.
It has been quite a while since these e-healthcare services were inaugurated, but due to a lack of publicity, people have largely remained unaware of their services.
"We need funding to advertise our programmes. If the government or local and foreign investors come forward with funds, we can come up with better services," said Farhad.
Dr. Md Raushan Anwar, Director Primary Healthcare department at Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), appreciating the initiatives of these start-ups, said, "The online based healthcare services need supervision by the health directorate. If supervised, the organisations will be more responsible."