Wed, Apr 11, 2012 - Page 13 News List

The doctor is online

Now in its beta stage, Web startup Hulihealth wants to connect patients with the best practitioners and hospitals around the world

By Catherine Shu  /  Staff Reporter

Some countries excel at particular medical services, and top doctors in specific field might not be available in a patient’s country. Hulihealth aims to provide listings that allow a patient to find the best possible medical treatment for their needs.

Photo: Bloomberg

New Web startup Hulihealth (www.hulihealth.com) aims to create a comprehensive database of the best doctors in the world.

Now in its beta stage, the Web site lists doctors in Taiwan vetted by Hulihealth for the quality of their care and ability to treat foreign patients. Hulihealth’s section for this country, which went live less than three weeks ago, currently features two Taipei City clinics that offer annual health checkups, Eonway Health Maintenance Center (永越健康管理中心) and Lianan Wellness Center (聯安診所). It will add dentists, optometrists and cosmetic surgeons soon.

“We consider ourselves more than just a medical tourism company,” says founder Alejandro Vega. “We are about connecting patients and doctors no matter where they are.”

Hulihealth’s pilot program also includes Panama and Costa Rica. Vega says the company’s goal is to eventually list the top 10 percent of doctors and dentists in every country on its site.

Its target base is not just medical tourists, but also expats and locals. The site will be available in Chinese at the end of this month.

In Taiwan, Hulihealth taps into a rapidly growing industry. Richard Wu (吳明彥), the chief executive officer of the Taiwan Task Force for Medical Travel (台灣醫療服務國際化專案), estimates that annual revenue from medical travelers treated at the 32 hospitals tracked by the task force has increased by 30 percent each year since 2008, earning a total of US$100 million in 2010.

But Taiwan’s medical industry still needs to cultivate its international reputation, says Wu. The task force is partnering with Hulihealth as part of its promotional efforts.

“It takes time to build up trust with patients and doctors,” says Wu. “Compared to Singapore and Thailand, which have already built up their country’s brands, Taiwan still faces that challenge.”

Hulihealth markets itself to hospitals and clinics as a way to reach a new clientele.

“It gives us a platform to promote our services,” says Sherry Shih (施白), the deputy executive director of Eonway. “Before, patients usually found us through word of mouth or online searches.”

For users, Hulihealth provides a comprehensive overview of a doctor’s credentials and a free and easy way to book appointments online. It makes money by taking a commission from doctors, who are not allowed to charge Hulihealth users more than other patients, for each appointment booked.

One of the Web site’s first patients in Taiwan, Kathie (who requested that her last name not be published for privacy reasons), says Hulihealth caught her eye because it reminded her of using Opentable.com to book restaurant reservations while living in New York City.

Kathie, a consultant who moved to Taiwan 18 months ago, had gone for a checkup at Taiwan Adventist Hospital (台安醫院) based on recommendations she saw on an Internet forum, but found the experience frustrating.

“Given how it was ranked in terms of being an expat-friendly hospital, I actually didn’t find it very expat friendly,” says Kathie. “It was taking a number and waiting in line for a really long time, and when I finally saw a doctor it was for under five minutes.”

In contrast, booking an annual health checkup on Hulihealth was “painless and simple.” Kathie also found the ability to leave feedback reassuring.

“In general, there is a good overall description [of clinics] and I see it as a curated selection,” says Kathie. “I’m like, OK, they are not going to put something on there that I am going to hate.”

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