Online Healthcare In Vietnam: Digital Initiatives In A Traditional Market
A driving force behind online healthcare in Vietnam—Jio Health is pioneering a new approach to medical care with an app that will send a doctor directly to your door. With a clear focus on working within the traditional healthcare model rather than disrupting it, their aim is to manage outpatient care, thus lowering the traffic in overcrowded local hospitals.
To explore this new healthcare concept in more depth, Vietcetera went to meet two of the doctors giving home consultations on behalf of Jio Health, Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi and Dr. Huynh Thi My Hang. We wanted to understand why the market is ripe for a digital health platform and how this new approach is providing a more convenient option for patients.
Could you elaborate on recent improvements to the healthcare system in Vietnam?
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi: Vietnam is progressing really fast, so it should come of no surprise that, as in many industries here, the healthcare system is undergoing significant development too. In the past 10 years, the amount of both local and international hospitals has increased sharply. At the same time, countless renovations have been made to pre-existing hospitals. Not to mention people from rural areas have been flocking into the city for health checks. In response to that, more clinics are popping-up in rural areas, which is really having a positive impact on high-volume hospitals.
Dr. Huynh Thi My Hang: I would add that hospitals are also becoming better equipped with newer technology, which improves diagnostic accuracy and the accuracy of health assessments in general. As this higher-end technology slowly seeps into the local market, it can speed up the entire visitation process, making way for less time spent waiting in queues. Compared to ten years ago, Vietnam has come a long way in this area.
Is this all driven by a change of mindset among Vietnamese?
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi: Vietnamese people’s behavior is changing, and we’re becoming more open to alternative approaches to medical treatment. The convenience and benefit of having a family doctor is a good example. More people are embracing this model. They are realizing that a family doctor can better understand their personal and family medical history. We develop a strong relationship with them, in which a deep sense of trust is established. Because of this, they know more about our habits and lifestyle. The desire to have a family doctor is a rather new concept in Vietnam, and although it’s a step away from our traditional model, it’s still a step in the right direction.
How strongly is this driven by internet accessibility?
Dr. Huynh Thi My Hang: Personally, I believe internet accessibility has been a consistent element in much of Vietnam’s progress. Now that the general population has access to international health resources and websites, they can cross-reference their doctor’s opinions with information easily accessible online. They are much better informed than in the past. Also, as a result, many people are generally more aware of basic health-related information, like the need for preventative action.
What makes Vietnam ripe for the introduction of online health services like the ones offered by Jio Health?
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi: Online healthcare in Vietnam has massive potential to expand across the board—and in nearly every industry. But the burgeoning middle class is probably the biggest factor to consider here. The gap between affordability and quality is huge, and there just aren’t many cost-efficient options for people in these groups right now. There is also a serious lack of facilities for the expanding upper class, and even well-respected international hospitals and clinics don’t offer solutions for many of the inconveniences like navigating traffic jams on the way to the consultation, long queues when you arrive and limited face time with your doctor. Nobody likes to deal with these situations, especially not when they are sick.
Dr. Huynh Thi My Hang: As unfortunate as these circumstances are, we view them as a catalyst for alternative solutions. And for us, we think a digital platform might just offer the perfect way to circumvent these frustrations.
Do you expect there will be problems gaining people’s trust in online healthcare services? If so, how can service providers overcome this?
Dr. Huynh Thi My Hang: Yes, this is definitely a problem we foresee. As with any product, brand recognition and reputation is critical, especially when the product is new. And when you move into the online sector, building that trust can be even more difficult to achieve. In Vietnam, your average person still approaches ecommerce and many digital services with a bit of uncertainty. However, we are pretty confident that the Vietnamese community just needs a bit more time and hands-on experience before they can fully adapt to a system of online healthcare in Vietnam.
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi: When people hear about the concept of an online healthcare service and app, almost everyone expresses genuine interest. They like it and are eager to learn more, despite the unfamiliarity of it all. The solution is to get people to try it out for themselves. It’s kind of like Uber I guess. In the beginning, nobody was willing to try it out. But then they launched a massive promotional campaign giving away the first ride for free and offering deals for people who refer friends. Once lots of people had tried it out, it seemed everyone was talking about it. So, for something like online healthcare in Vietnam to succeed, the marketing teams need to be really creative if they are going to make a serious impact on the market.
How does the patient-to-doctor relationship change when you make a home visit?
Dr. Huynh Thi My Hang: In local hospitals, our workload is very heavy and we often don’t have enough time to provide our patients with a thorough consultation. There are always lines of patients outside our doors, and in order to take care of everybody, our consultations often have to be as brief as possible. As a result, the level of satisfaction for both doctors and patients is average at best. As doctors, we are naturally passionate about providing the best possible care for our patients, and of course, patients want to be well taken care of—and rightfully so. And this isn’t only a problem in traditional hospitals, but with international hospitals and clinics as well.
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi: When we are able to provide care for our patients right in the comfort of their own home, these issues are immediately reduced. We can take as much time as we need to deliver a comprehensive consultation. With home visits patients feel at ease, and are more comfortable about explaining their symptoms. It just makes for a more effective and efficient process for all parties involved.
How do you maintain the service when follow-ups are required?
Dr. Huynh Thi My Hang: Follow-ups are another complicated issue we are confronting. After any initial visit, it’s extremely difficult to track patient progress. Because of the high volume of people that we see in traditional institutions, names and faces start to become blurred and it’s really difficult to stay up-to-date with everyone’s medical records. The system in play isn’t the best the world has seen. When we make home visits, we establish real, long-lasting relationships. We grow to understand our patient’s personal and family medical history, and we can manage their care comfortably. It’s refreshing.
How can online healthcare in Vietnam complement rather than work against the traditional model?
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi: Firstly, we are all here for one purpose—and that’s to help people live longer, healthier lives. The best way to achieve this is by joining forces with the current system, rather than disrupting it. When you view online healthcare services as complementary, it starts to make much more sense. Since all the doctors involved with the online sector also continue to work in local hospitals, we are able to see both sides of the process. And if both healthcare models combine forces instead of competing against each other, it becomes mutually beneficial.
Dr. Huynh Thi My Hang: Right. Take outpatient care for example. Through to-you-door healthcare apps like Jio Health, we can take care of a huge amount of outpatient visits that would otherwise be clogging up hospitals. However, we still need the support of traditional hospitals, especially for emergency situations. That is an area which online healthcare system doesn’t currently support.
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi: In an ideal world, if online healthcare in Vietnam could manage to treat even a fair percentage of all outpatient visits, it would significantly lower the traffic in local hospitals, thus reducing the doctor’s workload and making way for better quality care across the board. And that is exactly what we want to see happen in the future. Two heads are always better than one. Together, I think the combination of traditional and new approaches could really take the quality of healthcare to the next level. It’s beneficial for doctors, patients and administrations too. Viewed in that light, this is a win-win situation.
Walk us through the process of a home visit.
Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Yen Nhi: Well, just like when you order a Grab or Uber, each party has the app. The doctors have their version and the patients use a different one. It’s quite simple really, as it follows a basic request-and-response procedure. Through the app, patients are able to read doctors’ profiles and choose which one they would like based on personal preference and doctor availability. Once a doctor has been chosen, the practitioner will get a notification, which they must confirm before the appointment is scheduled. Before a visit is made, doctors will provide a consultation over the phone, in order to make appropriate preparations before making the home visit. After that step is complete, patients just need to wait until we arrive to their location.