Rolf Madrid and Sheila Moneza launched NXTGen E-Clinic to provide patients the easiest, least intimidating way to consult their doctors from the comforts of their homes.
When lockdowns were enforced all over the country last year, seeing a doctor became much more complicated. A higher volume of patients in hospitals, mobility restrictions, and the fear of contracting other illnesses restricted access to quality health care for most Filipinos.
At the same time, Rolf Madrid, an entrepreneur, learned from observing his wife, Dr. Daryl Del Mundo, that even doctors who were already providing online consultations needed help to promote their services.
“She had to lessen her schedule [at the hospital] and start her telemedicine practice. Even before, I was already telling her how to improve her marketing skills. I told her that doctors should also be able to market themselves,” said Rolf.
Together with Sheila Moneza, who ran a travel agency with Rolf, the couple became acutely aware of the struggles doctors faced attempting to work around these restrictions.
Sheila said that during the pandemic last year, around April, she and Rolf saw more doctors shifting to telemedicine.
“One doctor, one clinic, that would be their usual set-up. So we said, 'We really have to do this because the lockdowns were starting, people can't go to the hospitals, and doctors can't also serve their patients, so their income was affected during that time,'” said Sheila.
Realizing the need to bridge the digital gap between doctors and patients, they combined their experience in entrepreneurship, sales and marketing to build NXTGen E-Clinic with Rolf as the CEO, Daryl as the medical director, and Sheila as the head of marketing.
NXTGen is a chat and browser-based telemedicine platform that provides Filipinos an easy, frictionless way to consult with their doctors from the comforts of their homes. Instead of requiring patients to download external apps or programs, NXTGen books and consults patients using communication channels that are already installed on most mobile and desktop devices, such as Google Chrome, Safari, and Facebook Chat.
Sheila recalled that telemedicine was a fairly new concept to Filipinos when they started and "perhaps Filipinos weren't ready yet to book online doctor consultations via an app."
"With other platforms, patients have to download an app, which becomes an extra hassle and source of friction for the patients to the point that they don’t continue with the process," she added.
Rolf and Sheila knew that Filipinos would be more comfortable inquiring over platforms that were familiar to them. They chose Facebook Messenger as their main customer touchpoint since many Filipinos already have Facebook accounts.
“We said that it has to be easy, it has to be approachable, and they should be able to ask a lot of questions so that we may be able to gain their trust,” she said.
In May of 2020, NXTGen began their service with a team of six doctors. It took the founding team of Rolf, Sheila, Daryl, and Rodan Robles, who is NXTGen’s sales manager, around three weeks to go from planning to launching NXTGen. Rolf recalled that he paid for the first version of their internal team's back-end tech platform using just his credit card.
“And by the time that my credit card bill came in, through telemedicine, we were already able to pay for the platform. So basically, we didn’t have to cash out. We didn’t make a big investment to start the business,” Rolf said, adding: "A lot of people think when you start a business that you have to have a lot of money. You have to be ready to spend. That's not always the case."
In the beginning, the founding team had to wear multiple hats in the company to kickstart operations.
"Well, at first since we didn't have any staff yet. Rolf, Dan, and I were the VAs (virtual assistants) and we handled the sales. So, we just assigned shifts. We would start at 8 AM and end at 8 PM, but of course, many would still inquire until 2 AM at times," said Sheila.
They had launched the platform at just the right time. Almost halfway through 2020, demand for telemedicine was spiking as the country slowly embraced the new normal. From booking a few dozen consultations in their first few weeks, the number of patients grew by almost 800% during their busiest months. On average, NXTGen accommodates over 500 inquiries every week.
As their business grew they also expanded their roster of health care professionals to address an even wider set of health concerns. Currently, NXTGen has 22 doctors on board who specialize in the fields of Internal Medicine, Dermatology, Urology, Surgical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Ophthalmology, General Surgery, General Pediatrics, Pediatric Nephrology, Nephrology, Cardiology, Neurology, Pulmonary Medicine, Endocrinology, Gastroenterology, Medical Oncology, Rheumatology, Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose, and Throat or ENT), Obstetrics - Gynecology (OB-Gyne).
The World Health Organization defines telemedicine as “the delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities."
More than enabling health care from a distance, however, NXTGen focuses on giving every patient a smooth telemedicine experience.
NXTGen keeps an open line of communication with their patients at any stage of the process. From 8 AM to 8 PM every day, patients can inquire, book, and ask questions regarding their consultation through chat support.
When patients book a consultation through Facebook Chat, their booking confirmation is sent through an email that contains the patient’s details, the reason for consultation, consent forms, and the link to the meeting. On the day of consultation, patients can log into the meeting room using browser applications such as Safari or Google Chrome. This ensures that patients will not have to download additional applications to use the platform.
For maximum accessibility, Sheila shares that it was critical for them to use a mobile-friendly platform. She estimates that 70-80% of their patients use mobile phones during their consultations.
As a former sales consultant, Rolf said his biggest learning from setting up NXTGen was the importance of after-sales maintenance and service to gain customer satisfaction.
“So, we want to make sure all our patients are satisfied with our service from the beginning, during the consultation, and even at the end,” said Rolf.
From the get-go, he wanted to ensure that NXTGen could handhold their patients throughout their entire telemedicine journey and not just during consultation.
“If they have follow-up questions or if someone forgot their prescription, and so forth, we can always attend to them. So that's what we aspire for as the NXTGen brand. We wanted a different kind of customer experience for all our clients and all our patients.”
Rolf also emphasized that being punctual is key to fostering loyalty among patients. He shared that he had lived in Japan for a while and the culture there had made him very particular about time. For him, the ability to stay on time is one advantage that telemedicine holds over more traditional health care services.
“So, I make sure our doctors realize that when we say '10 o'clock is your consultation, you should be online at 10,' because we don't want that experience of what we're used to if you go to a hospital or clinic: You line up, you reserve a slot for 10 o ‘clock, and then you see your doctor at 11 or 1 PM, or whatever time,” he said.
He also acknowledged that respecting time has to be a two-way street.
“But at the same time, we also make our patient responsible that if you're not there in 10 minutes, you forfeit your slot. So, I think that's fair for both doctors and patients. ” Rolf said.
Rolf continued, saying that in all their consultations, time is “highly valued so that both the doctor's time and the patient's time won't be wasted. If you look at our reviews, that's one thing that our patients like about our platform."
Out of more than 1,000 Facebook reviews, 99% of NXTGen’s patients leave good reviews with a “consistent rating of 5 out of 5” stars. Also, 30% of their patients return to use the platform again.
“So you’ll see there, the common theme is that they find us reliable and very approachable,” Sheila said.
Over the past year, more Filipinos have become used to the convenience of telemedicine. For patients that have saved time and effort by consulting from home, returning to physical consultations may be an outdated concept, especially for non-emergency cases.
Sheila said that the benefits NXTGen provides will allow it to outlast the pandemic.
"We want the business to survive, even without COVID, because we really see the benefits it provides the patients. And when things normalize, traffic will be back as well. For me personally, would I really drive out to the hospital for a common cold consultation?" Sheila said.
Rolf remained bullish on NXTGen’s future, sharing that with the success of the platform, they have already started to branch outside the field of medicine by establishing an online law consultation or “telelaw” business.
“So, we're very optimistic with this business, and also we have other projects that we have in mind to help us increase our customer base in the coming months," Rolf said.
Reflecting on the telemedicine industry in the Philippines, he said that the country is moving in the direction of more advanced economies like Europe or the United States, where telemedicine is well integrated into the patient journey.
In those places, patients only go to a hospital on the day of their surgery or procedure. For any non-emergency illnesses, or when consulting before and after a procedure, there’s telemedicine. NXTGen E-Clinic proves that this system is already possible for the local health care industry.
“So, that's also our goal in promoting telemedicine. Hopefully, in the Philippines, we won't have to go to the hospital or the clinic all the time,” said Rolf. 🌱