Cape Town based healthtech Ingress Healthcare has raised R6-million to help it to scale its platform that aims to distribute spare consulting rooms in hospitals and clinics to general practitioners and specialists.
The investment came from 11 investors under a group called Pegasus, which invested alongside Enso Equity, a Cape Town based investor founded by Anton Newbury.
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Ingress Healthcare’s platform functions like a kind of Airbnb for those in the medical profession who are struggling to meet the high costs of setting up and running their own practice.
Instead of acquiring their own building and staff, the platform allows them to rent free space when it’s available in consulting rooms and hospitals. The platform also manages their administration and helps them to book clients.
Ingress Healthcare functions like a kind of Airbnb for those in medical profession providing them with spare consulting rooms
This could prove vital in tackling Covid-19, particularly at a time when many doctors and specialists have shut their consulting rooms.
The platform which went live in December last year, was founded in 2018 by three doctors, Jason McArthur, Noxolo Gqada and Nicolina Bardou.
McArthur (pictured above), who serves as CEO, says the startup has raised R11-million in total from investors since its inception.
The previous R5-million was made in January last year and came from Enso Capital and a local angel investor who is a property mogul. Each committed R2.5-million to the round, says McArthur.
He says the cost of rent and administration can typically come to about 60% of specialists’ or general practitioners’ revenue.
But take away the building rental and outsource the receptionist and back-office work to the platform, and a doctor will end up paying far less in overheads. Ingress Health, he points out, typically charges a rate of 35% of what medical practitioners bill their patients.
Mopping up spare capacity
To source available space, McArthur says the startup first gets in contact with doctors and hospitals to check if there is ever a time when their consulting rooms are usually not in use — it typically looks for stretches of four hours where rooms are free.
When there are free time slots, the startup then puts in a request to pay to book these slots. It then makes these slots available on the platform to other doctors and specialists in the surrounding area.
McArthur says the platform has currently enrolled 30 practitioners in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Using the facilities of the platform, these practitioners have had about 500 to 1000 patient consultations in the last three months, he says.
He says the startup is perfecting all its systems before attempting to scale beyond this to “ensure great service delivery”. However, he says the startup plans to add practitioners from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal “very soon”.
The platform, he says, is about to launch an offering “in the next two weeks” which will allow patients to book a consultation with a medical professional.
When the offering goes live, the platform will essentially offer a full digital service, which will allow patients to book a medical professional, who will in turn be able to use a consulting room at a nearby hospital, specialist or general practitioner to conduct a consultation.
Out sourced operating theatres
But that’s not all.
The startup, revealed McArthur, is now also carrying out a pilot with two hospital groups to offer operating theatre time to specialists and surgeons, during times when those particular operating theatres usually go unused.
Like this, he predicts that the platform could be a boon for medical aids looking to bring down the cost of covering medical procedures
McArthur points out that a key challenge is that when one specialist makes their mark in a hospital, they often muscle out competitors, by ensuring that all procedures are passed onto them and not to any new comers. This often has the effect of driving up the cost of medical help.
However, if unutilised theatre time can be put to use, it offers new comers a way in. In doing so, it may well drive down the cost of certain medical procedures.
In addition, McArthur points outs that as the majority of SA doctors work in state hospitals and clinics, the startup’s platform could help expand the market size of practitioners, allowing patients more choice and access to doctors. Practitioner and patients also have geographical freedom, he added.
This could be essential when the country rolls out National Health Insurance (NHI) system, he says.
Yet, McArthur admits he is still trying to find a better way to communicate the startup’s model to the health-care sector. Too many in the sector imagine it to be a platform that provides doctors in locum. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We don’t employ doctors, we’re just assisting them with their independent practices,” he points out.
Another key challenge is that of legal liability. All facilities must have public liability insurance and must be in a clean condition, he says.
But what about other legal issues. McArthur revealed that a hospital partner through one doctor on the platform out of the facility when he screamed at a patient at the hospital.
Then there’s the matter of what to do if a doctor using the platform has been caught drunk driving.
McArthur says he is working closely with lawyers to iron-out issues such as these. “I am sure there will be a grey areas and we’ll have to cross that one day,” he admits.
These issues aside, the innovative platform could help mitigate the high fees that many fear private medical aids will introduce when NHI is introduced.
It’s sure to shake things up.
Featured image: Ingress Healthcare CEO Dr Jason McArthur (Supplied)