Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

Generation Start-up: Okadoc aims to revolutionise the medical booking system

Digital health portal for GCC doctors and patients eyes Saudi launch in 2019

Fodhil Benturquia, CEO and Founder of Okadoc.com at the Arab Health forum, Dubai, 2019 Okadoc plans to enter Saudi Arabia this year. Leslie Pableo for The National
Fodhil Benturquia, CEO and Founder of Okadoc.com at the Arab Health forum, Dubai, 2019 Okadoc plans to enter Saudi Arabia this year. Leslie Pableo for The National

If you can purchase an item online in a matter of seconds, why can’t you book a doctor appointment in the same short space of time?

That was the question posed by Fodhil Benturquia, founder and chief executive of UAE-based medical search portal Okadoc, before he created his company.

A former group chief executive of Noon, the GCC e-commerce firm owned by Dubai businessman Mohamed Alabbar, and ex-general manager of Souq.com, the online retailer snapped up by Amazon in 2017, Mr Benturquia was increasingly frustrated by the amount of time it took him to book an appointment with a doctor.

After trawling through websites and choosing the physician he wanted to see, he had to go through a long-winded process of selecting the date and time, then waiting for a call back from the clinic to confirm, or sometimes change, his preferred appointment slot. This took at least 15 minutes.

“I felt that a digitalised experience could really benefit the healthcare industry,” Mr Benturquia says, in an interview with The National in Dubai.

This appears to be the case – judging by the success of Okadoc to date and the demand it has received from UAE healthcare institutions. Less than a year after its launch last April, the company has raised several million US dollars in a Series A fundraising round (it declines to reveal the exact amount), and is preparing to conclude its second round of funding in the coming weeks.

The first round was fully led by private angel investors, while the Series B backers comprise a mix of private and institutional investors, according to Mr Benturquia.

Around 120 clinics and hospitals in the UAE have partnered with Okadoc to list their services on its portal and coordinate patient bookings, including Emirates Specialty Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the UAE, among others.

Okadoc plans to list 100 per cent of the 160-plus clinics based in the Dubai Healthcare City free zone by the end of 2020, and expects to enter Saudi Arabia and “at least one other GCC country” later this year, the founder says. Website traffic reached 100,000 monthly users in January, up from 60,000 in December and representing average monthly growth of 20-30 per cent since launch, and double-digit growth in monthly revenues.

“We are expecting to grow our revenues even faster with Okadoc’s expansion in Saudi Arabia and other GCC markets in 2019, and the ongoing enhancement of our services and website functionality,” the founder says.

Most of the top global players in this field, such as Zoc Doc in the US and Dr Lib in Europe, have between 5 to 15 per cent market penetration in their respective markets, he adds. “At Okadoc, we plan to achieve market penetration of 30 per cent in the UAE by 2022, and this will be reflected in our revenues.”

The company is also supported by rapid forecast growth in the GCC healthcare market, which is expected to surge to $71.3bn by the end of next year, from $40.3bn in 2015, according a report that year by Dubai-based investment bank Alpen Capital.

Healthcare providers in the Arabian Gulf are expanding as the population increases and the cost of treatment edges higher. Expected improvements in the quality of healthcare provision, together with rising demand for preventive care and digital medical services will help to fuel massive growth in the industry.

Mr Benturquia launched Okadoc as a self-funded portal initially, from his home in Dubai. The website lists UAE-based medical practitioners that users can search by name, clinic, the insurers that cover them, location, language and specialty.

The portal is free for patients to use, but client hospitals and doctors pay a monthly subscription package to list their services via Okadoc. The cost varies depending on the size of the organisation, but typically ranges from between Dh250-Dh500 per month, according to its founder.

Take-up among clients has been encouraging and there remains high demand from medical institutions not yet listed. “We are the only one doing this in the UAE, and there is a real gap and a need,” he says.

“It’s like e-commerce and retail – digitalisation is revolutionising so many industries, from financial services, education, and even the broader pharmaceutical sector is seeing now a rush of ‘health-tech’ products and services. But the basic appointment booking system needed improving.” It takes less than 40 seconds to book an appointment via Okadoc, he claims.

After securing its Series A funding, Mr Benturquia grew his team to around 40 people and moved to offices in Dubai Healthcare City. It intends to use the Series B funding to launch the portal in Saudi Arabia – with a small team of staff working on sales and business development in the kingdom – and to keep upgrading the technology and marketing its services.

Eventually, the company may expand elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, but where exactly, and when, has not yet been determined.

“Okadoc is based on an internationally proven, scaleable and profitable business model, so we are very ambitious about what we can achieve in the future,” Mr Benturquia says.

“Technology can solve a host of problems across the world and healthcare is surely one of them.”

Updated: February 2, 2019 01:44 PM

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