Health issues in Pakistan have been ever-increasing. One of the reasons is the lack of health facilities and general awareness among the population. Due to inadequate knowledge among people lots of common symptoms remain unnoticed which ultimately lead to severe diseases. Also, most of the times patients do not get the proper healthcare guidance and advice. As a result they are deprived of the right treatment.

TalkHealth is a digital platform which empowers the patients by helping them make right medical decisions.
Keeping the poor conditions of our healthcare system in mind Sarfraz Arshad and MatiUllah came up with their startup, TalkHealth. Improving access of the Pakistani patients to healthcare facilities and better health decision making through technology is a modern approach employed by these entrepreneurs. TalkHealth is the only startup of its kind, it provides a free online consultant service to patients where they can discuss their medical conditions with doctors and get advice.

Sarfraz Arshad and MatiUllah, the two co-founders of TalkHealth, are engineering graduates from National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences (NUCES). MatiUllah handles the tech side while Sarfraz manages the marketing and the business side.

TalkHealth co-founders

TalkHealth co-founders (Left: MatiUllah, Right: Sarfraz Arshad) Image Credits: TalkHealth

TalkHealth is incubated at NUST Technology Incubation Centre and has launched today. We had an interesting chat with one of the co-founders, Mr. Sarfraz Arshad. Let’s hear what he has to say:

Q: TalkHealth aims to empower the patients, please tell us about the services you will be offering?

A: Patients in our part of the world have inadequate knowledge when it comes to health. They tend to ignore their bodily symptoms and feel reluctant in sharing their problems. Apart from the physical illness people also undergo a mental stress of finding the right doctor. These problems have been prevailing for years and we have made very little efforts to address them.  TalkHealth aims to tackle these problems by creating collaborative healthcare communities. We do not prescribe any medicines but the patients can get general guidance about their medical condition. Through TalkHealth people can share their medical problems with healthcare experts and seek advice. They can get suggestions about which doctor they should visit for getting the treatment, they can also find a doctor and ask questions from him/her or book an appointment.

In our society there is a lack of trust between the doctor and the patient. People have a concept that the doctors are charging them extra fee and prescribing them expensive medicines on purpose. Through TalkHealth people can now read reviews about the doctors and then visit them. This way they can be sure and satisfied that they are visiting the right doctor who has been reviewed positively by other patients.

Q: As you mentioned that the doctors will be reviewed and rated by their respective patients. But how can you justify this rating, the patients usually do not have medical knowledge. Are they going to rate the doctors on the basis of their bedside manners or expensive medicines? Is such rating going to be helpful in any way?

A: I agree that the patients do not have medical knowledge. But they do know if the diagnosis and the prescribed medicines are working or not, they do how the doctors’ manners are i.e. whether they are punctual or not. Furthermore,it is a moderated rating system. The patients have to provide a subjected review, not just a five star rating.

Q: Isn’t it going to be a bit controversial? If there is a reputed doctor and a patient at TalkHealth has given him a bad review then it can harm your collaboration with the doctor and the clinic too. How are you going to handle it?

The genuine concerns of the patients have to be voiced, how are we going to sort out these problems if nobody recognizes them?
A: Well, our foremost aim is to empower the patients and help sort out their problems.  But as TalkHealth is a noble platform and we want to be fair to everyone so we will be continuously reviewing all the rating to insure that the reviews are genuine and point towards helping other patients make the right medical decisions.

We have also provided a feature to doctors through which they can hide any inappropriate comment from patients that might harm their image in future. However, the ratings are going to be public and they will be added to the doctor’s profile.

Q: How many doctors and hospitals are now on board with you?

A: We have 120+ doctors on board with us now and the number is increasing every day. We have signed up with the top hospitals in the twin cities.

Q: How did you approach the doctors and convince them to work with you?

A: This particular task wasn’t very easy. We had a hard time with a few people we collaborated with. But my experience in sales and marketing helped me in getting through.We had a 50% conversion rate.The tech savvy doctors and clinics were really interested in working with us because of the numerous benefits they will get by becoming a part of TalkHealth. We are providing doctors the facility to make their profiles and showcase their experience. Through TalkHealth the doctors can increase their reach and gain visibility to millions of patients.

We have been able to penetrate enough into this and within a month we were able to connect with 40 clinics which is a big achievement.

Talkhealth provides doctors a free of cost appointment management system to manage their appointments.

Q: Do you think people are ready to adopt the online health interventions?

A: I am positive about it. Technology is invading our lives so why not use it for something as important as your health! People had similar questions in mind when E-commerce was being introduced in the country but now you can see how successful it is today. So similarly, I think people will adopt online health interventions.

Q: What is your revenue channel? As you are not charging anything to the patients, are the doctors paying to get registered at TalkHeath?

A: No, the registration is free for the doctors as well. When a doctor joins us we allot him an appointment management software through which he can manage all his appointments. When a patient books an appointment through TalkHealth we take 10% of the total cost. That’s the revenue channel for now but there are a few others that we will be considering in future.

Q: The patients are putting their personal details on your website; will the patient records be generated online?

A: We are launching TalkHealth as a MVP (Minimal Viable Product). So, we are not generating any such records now but yes in future we will be generating “Electronic Medical Records” of the patients. The patients will have a user account on which all their reports, records and prescriptions would be stored.

Q: How do you intend to maintain the confidentiality of this data? The patients might be reluctant to share their details with everyone.

All of the users data would be secured and private. 
 A: There would be a privacy policy and patients will have full control on what they want to show and what they want to hide. Just like you use Facebook and manage your profiles’ privacy.

Q: When you have generated Medical Records, you will have significant data that could contribute to healthcare and medical research. What if a research student approaches you with a request to have this data? Would you be sharing it then?

A: In this case the researchers can access the generic data that we have. We can surely provide them generalized information for example the number of cancer cases reported, from which area most cases were reported etc. But the specific information about any patient will only be shared with his/her consent.

TalkHealth also provides support groups for patients suffering from chronic illness like cancer, hepatitis or diabetes where patients can provide emotional support to each other. Such groups also help the patients in coping with stress and adapting to challenging lifestyles dictated by their 

Q: TalkHealth has launched today. What are your feelings, are you craving the excitement?

A: That is true, we are officially launched today. It’s been 6 months of endless hard work and we are looking forward to see how people react to it.

Q: Pakistan has 2/3 of its people living below the poverty line and health is a major issue for them. Does TalkHealth aim to create an impact on macro level for these people in the near future?

A: Yes we do, soon we will be working on telemedicine as well which will help the people in rural areas in accessing good doctors at a very minor cost.

We wish the TalkHealth team goodluck!

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About the author

Saneea Imran

Saneea loves to discover and document the booming startup culture in Pakistan. She freelances with Daastan and likes to talk about public health, nutrition and lifestyles.

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