Singapore-based RingMD launched its first app this week, an Android app designed to connect patients anywhere in the world to doctors anywhere in the world -- although for now the doctors are mostly based in Singapore.
"Basically, when it comes down to healthcare and really just the world in general these days you have to think global from day one," CEO Justin Fulcher told MobiHealthNews. "And we’re one of the only companies that are really taking that to heart as a core part of our philosophy. From there, being based in Singapore, we have the best opportunity to leverage the huge growth in the Asia region, but still given our management team -- a lot of them come from the US -- leverage our knowledge of the American market and accomplish that remotely."
The platform currently has about 100 doctors, mostly in Singapore, who mostly see patients from the surrounding countries in Southeast Asia. RingMD has been launched in beta as a web application for a few months, and is now doing a mobile rollout, starting on Android, which the company chose to focus on because of its international popularity.
Besides the international focus, what sets RingMD apart from other telemedicine services is a marketplace approach to facilitating virtual care, wherein doctors can sign up for the service individually, through a practice, or via an insurer.
"The advantages on the patient side are that we can provide the patient choice, so the patient can come on to the site, they can filter by categories such as medical specialty or symptoms, or see which doctors are available literally at this point in time and choose the one that best fits their needs based on specialty and pricing," Fulcher said. "And on the doctor side, we allow them to keep in touch with their existing patients or gain new patients all in a very simple and easy to use fashion."
Doctors set their own rates on the platform and RingMD takes a commission. Fulcher said they encourage doctors to set rates comparable to their in-person fees, but doctors will often adjust in either direction.
"We’ve got some doctors who charge 10 or 20 percent less then their regular price because they’re just trying to fill their open, vacant times," he said. "So even if it’s 80 or 90 percent of the income they would have received, that’s better than none. We’ve also seen doctors that have set their price two or three times higher, because of this convenience factor and because they’re quite busy and have a loyal following, so this is a value-added premium service they’re offering to their existing patient base."
If patients' symptoms start to go beyond what can be treated remotely, having a doctor in another country does become a problem. But Fulcher says at the moment RingMD is just facilitating a culture of traveling for medical care that already exists in Southeast Asia.
"Tens of thousands of patients every single month fly to Southeast Asia just to come to Singapore, so this is quite a common activity that’s happening already," he said. "So we’re augmenting that experience by making it easier for these international patients to choose the right doctor, as well as to keep that relationship going with followup without having to fly to Singapore after they’ve had whatever the medical procedure was."
RingMD has seed funding from some undisclosed Angel investors that is supporting the company's continued expansion, Fulcher said. He feels the company has cemented its presence in Southeast Asia, and plans to expand next primarily into the United States and into Australia. But because United States laws tend to base regulatory jurisdiction on the patient's location rather than the doctor's, being based in Singapore doesn't exempt the company from the licensing restrictions that make it difficult for any telemedicine company to operate coast-to-coast in the United States. Fulcher says the location doesn't let the company skirt any regulations they would otherwise have to deal with.
"Actually the regulations in Singapore are much stricter in the United States in terms of data privacy and data protection," he said. "Being compliant with that is about twice as difficult as being compliant with HIPAA. When it comes down to it, even though our company’s located in Singapore, it all comes down to the local jurisdiction of the doctor. It doesn’t matter if they’re talking to a patient in the US, they’re still regulated by the local jurisdiction there."