Vietnam is making progress on healthcare. Average life expectancy is up to 73, according to the WHO, and individual annual health spend is tipping $390 per year. But with around 1,000 state hospitals nationwide and 15 ‘foreign-invested’ hospitals, challenges persist—outdated resources and overcrowding, budget restrictions, and a shortage of trained staff. And from a patient perspective, navigating the healthcare system can be challenging, with questions of cost and insurance coverage often clouding the decision-making process.
The model of queue, consultation, prescription and pharmacy, and finally home a couple of hours later might additionally be ripe for disruption. So could an app that brings a doctor to your door change the face of medical care in a country such as Vietnam?
We met with Raghu Rai, CEO and founder Jio Health, a company with bases in both Vietnam and the US, to learn about what their team hopes to accomplish with digitally-driven medical services in this emerging market.
What was your first experience with Vietnam?
I first came to Vietnam to work with an offshore development team about five to six years ago. I made a lot of Vietnamese friends while I was studying at the University of California in Irvine and was able to rekindle those relationships when I returned to Vietnam.
And how did Jio Health get its start?
The genesis of Jio Health occurred in a business plan competition during my freshman year as an undergraduate student. We initially worked with health insurance companies and hospital systems to prevent costly hospital readmissions for chronic disease patients, which would result in penalties under the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).
We learned a lot about managed care. Our experience was insightful, but it was the stagnancy of long sales cycles and the creative confinement of working with mid-level management at insurance companies that gave us the impetus to venture abroad to explore healthcare markets outside of the US.
So America’s healthcare system isn’t conducive to innovation? Why is it more innovative to work here?
America’s healthcare system offers many opportunities for innovation. But, we were most excited by the consumer orientation of the healthcare industry in emerging markets like Vietnam. Consumers pay directly out of pocket for healthcare services. You can’t find that type of disintermediation within the US healthcare system.
There are also significant challenges with access to care in Vietnam. Patients routinely encounter overcrowded facilities, long wait times, and short interactions with doctors that last only a few minutes. The absence of a digital health infrastructure leaves physicians without access to patient medical records and leads to discontinuity in clinical collaboration.
On a positive note, the combination of bright, ambitious medical talent and a young, tech-savvy consumer population uniquely positions Vietnam to leapfrog traditional models of care.
We also looked at other Southeast Asian markets, but we initiated our overseas efforts here because of our team’s familiarity with the local market context and strong network. We’re reinventing healthcare here from ground zero. Our clinical team of fifty doctors, pharmacists and lab technicians enable us to build an effective healthcare ecosystem.
What sort of direction is Jio Health headed in? Tell us more about your team’s vision.
We’re building a healthcare system that delivers care with the scalability, innovation and service excellence of a consumer technology company. Healthcare is still in the formative stages of consumerism and there are enormous opportunities. We’ll have to remain humble and bring a beginner’s mind to the process of defining a new care experience for consumers and care providers.
Our mantra is quality care, conveniently delivered and at affordable prices.
It’s too early to discuss the seeds that we’ve planted, but we’ll continue to broaden our selection of clinical services, expand regionally and leverage data to optimize the scale, efficiency and personalization of our care delivery.
What’s the structure to make this entire operation sustainable?
Our digital infrastructure enables us to pass along substantial savings to our customers and care providers. Home visits by doctors start at 500,000 VND while video consultations are just 100,000 VND. Lab tests and prescriptions are charged separately. Consumers can pay by cash, credit/debit or can even cash in on their health insurance benefits.
We also offer family plans that start at 250,000 VND per month and provide families with guaranteed care including six home doctor visits, twelve video consultations and additional discounts on home lab tests.
What are some of your business and brand inspirations?
I admire Amazon, Tesla and SpaceX. They’re ambitious and bold enough to challenge the fundamentals of traditional industries, not with incremental innovation, but holistic innovation that encompassed the production, fulfillment and infrastructure beyond their products.
Amazon embraced the complete continuum of logistics and decided to bet big on its own fulfillment centers. Tesla, recognizing that the future of electric transportation would require large-scale manufacturing of electric batteries, engineered and built the gigafactory as an apparatus to facilitate its vision.
Healthcare is a large industry that rivals e-commerce, space travel and electric transport which will require more profound innovation than just telemedicine and health forums.
How has your perspective of Vietnam changed over time? Tell us one story or memory from your first experience here.
I felt completely captivated by Vietnam ever since I first visited six years ago. Over the years, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the country and its people.
We were struggling at the beginning of last year to identify care providers that would patiently work with us to develop a viable model of care for this market. Our team was wandering tirelessly through hospitals and clinics just trying to gain a better understanding of how the healthcare system works here.
Fortunately, we were always met with smiles, enthusiasm and open minds. Ultimately, serendipity struck and we were blessed to find phenomenal care providers that were eager to contribute and believe in a vision that was still immaterial at the time.
It was invigorating to confront uncertainty every single day with the confidence that the current of the city would somehow carry us to shore. Ho Chi Minh City has been a catalyst for my personal growth, and instilled within me a high degree of faith and optimism in the goodness of the people and virtue of perseverance.
What has your experience been like managing teams between the US and Vietnam?
Our teammates from the US routinely visit Vietnam every 2-3 months and consistently engage our local Vietnamese team in the brainstorming and conceptual phases of our development efforts. In many ways, our US team is envious of our Vietnamese team, because they’re immersed in the market and experiencing our growth first-hand.
How has the company grown since you launched here in Vietnam? What are some new initiatives that you’re introducing soon to spur growth?
Since our launch, we’ve experienced consistent growth and a warm reception from our customers. At the moment, we’re just focused on consistently delivering a high level of service in Ho Chi Minh City before we consider expansion to any additional cities in Vietnam and beyond.
We’ll continue to educate the market about the care services available to them at home and raise awareness about our model of care.
Who should we speak with next?
You should definitely speak with Trang Nguyen from the House of Chay. She’s building the first ‘conscious’ home brand in Vietnam. Plus, I’m sure she’ll feed you some fantastic food while you’re at it.