A company started by three MBBS graduates and also working doctors, Doctors on Call is an emerging start-up that seeks to provide quality health care to the elderly and patients affected by cancer and paralysis in the comfort of their own homes. The company currently employs around 60 people and recently secured an investment pledge of Rs 25 million at CNIYEF Nepal StartUp Fest 2022 organised by the Confederation of Nepalese Industries Young Entrepreneurs Forum. CEO of Doctors on Call Dr Suyesh Karki spoke with Sangay Sherpa of The Himalayan Times about the company’s journey, challenges, and future plans. Excerpts:

Can you tell us how the company came about as we know it today?

After working as a doctor at a hospital in Kathmandu for a few years, two of my good friends and I realised that many families were facing a hard time due to various factors in taking their elderly family members for regular hospital visits. Also, as there is a trend of youths migrating to foreign countries for employment purposes, many of their parents or family members who are affected with diseases related to cancer or paralysis find it difficult to visit hospitals. A similar issue is also faced by many Nepalis who are working corporate jobs here due to time constraints. Many people approached us and expressed their problems in taking their elderly family members to a hospital, which motivated us to bring a solution to the table.

Around the same time, we were also getting worried and confused about our future career paths. There was also an emerging trend of skilled youths, including doctors, leaving for foreign countries, whichweighed on me and my two friends as well. One day, discussing the problems faced by many patients arriving at the hospital with much difficulty over some tea, we decided to start Doctor on Call, a homebased health service focused on providing post-hospital care service to already diagnosed patients, taking care of the ill who find it difficult to visit a hospital in their own homes, and private doctor consultations along with nurses who can provide 24-hour service to patients.

With a team of just five, including the three of us, a health assistant and a nurse, we opened our office in Kamal Pokhari in 2018 with a small investment and hopes of spreading the word through social media platforms.

What were the major high and low points in the DOC’s journey?

As the three of us came from a medical background, we had little knowledge of running an organisation, which created some difficulties for us. We started the DOC in a hurryto solve a problem without thinking about it in the long run. Also, confusion started to emerge and we could not give the kind of commitment as hoped for to the organisation, which hampered us to some point. One of my friends left for Canada while the other friend is currently involved in another business. However, they are still affiliated with the company as its board members. Due to this, I think we also faced problems in the team-building process, which was a low point for the company. However, at the moment we have caught up with our shortcomings and are operating the company in a good way with a vision to move further ahead.

During our starting phase, we had very few clients as there was not much awareness regarding a homebased care service. But as time passed and the company moved forward, we were able to spread awareness about Doctors on Call and received good feedback. In return, our client base started to grow which helped us to sustain in the market and a team of five has now grown to around 60. Being able to provide a solution to a problem, quality service to the people, and contribute to creating employment for emerging nurses has always motivated and increased my passion for the company to continue what we are doing.

What makes DOC different from traditional hospitals and clinics that offer a similar form of service?

As I mentioned earlier, we specialise in treating elderly people in their homes after they have been diagnosed in the hospital. While the hospital plays the diagnostic part for the patient, we play a role in terms of caretaking and proper management of the patients.

Many elderly patients face difficulty in visiting a hospital forhealth-related checkups due to joint pains, among other problems. Also, many elderly patients find it a hassle to stay in line for a long time and follow the hospital protocols to have a consultation with a doctor at the end of the day. The Doctor on Call aims to exterminate the hassle for elderly patients so that they can receive normal checkups and tests by arriving at the patient’s home in the early hours themselves. The service is also beneficial for the other family members of the patient who will not have to take their day off from work while their family members can get quality treatment and care service in the comfort of their homes.

We provide health tests, doctor consultations, and physiotherapy for the patients when needed, among other health checkups, and also provide a 24-hour nurse for the utmost care of the patient in an environment they are comfortable in.

The company was recently offered a pledge investment of Rs 25 million at the StartUp Fest. How do events like CNIYEF Nepal StartUp Fest benefit a company like yours and how do you plan to use the funds if you secure the investment?

For any start-up after reaching a certain level, they are in dire need of funding to scale up their operations, whether it is to invest in the IT sector of a company, for team building, or to purchase new equipment. As there is very little expectation of any huge investment from the family members and friends and a required deposit of collateral to receive a loan from the banks, an involvement of any venture or angel companies through events like CNIYEF Nepal StartUp Fest, to pour investment and trust into any start-ups is a huge boost for them.

Gaining a sense of trust from investors in a company and moving forward mutually is very important for the start-up community as well as entrepreneurs. Moreover, their involvement helps start-ups to expand beyond their field of expertise and learn additional things which are crucial for further development and growth of a company.

Our company is not technology driven at the moment. We have been running our website and have made our presence on social media platforms, which connect us with our clients. If we do manage to secure the investment, we aim to move the company forward as health tech. Applications like eSewa and Fonepay, among others, have already made a good impression in the field of finance and helped digitise the country’s mode of payments. In the same way, we want people to seek health services through technology.

The Doctors on Call aims to create an ecosystem of all forms of health service through mobilephone, including booking a doctor’s appointment or an online consultation session with their doctor, inquiry for checkups, etcetera. For that, we are already working on an application that is in a development phase at the moment with our resources and will be released in a few months.

In addition, the Doctors on Call application will also be accessible for Nepalis in foreign countries, who are facing issues in receiving health services abroad due to financial problems or language barriers, and for people living in rural areas of the country to get a proper consultation regarding their health from a doctor over their smart devices.

Also, we would like to expand our operation in other major cities of the country to provide a similar type of service to the elderly patients. We have already planned to expand our services in Pokhara and Chitwan from Dashain onwards. Alongside our expansion, we could also have the funds for promotion, team building, restructuring of the company, and setting up branches in other major cities among others.

Where do you see your company in the next few years?

In the next few years, we want to provide a form of technology-driven health service to the Nepali people, where they can receive any form of service related to their health through a device. Also, we want to expand our company’s reach to every major part of the country to make our services accessible to all as well as create plenty of employment opportunities in the health sector.