There are few things as stressful as falling ill while traveling and needing to see a doctor. Locating clinics can be a challenge, the doctors may not speak your language, and miscommunication abounds—to the point where one could even be given the wrong treatment. And what of those hospital or clinic bills?
Israeli startup Air Doctor attempts to take away that stress by connecting travelers with local medical doctors. Even as travel bans and social distancing all over the world have kept people largely at home, the company has continued to provide its essential services throughout the global health crisis.
The startup built a platform that helps travelers locate an appropriate physician abroad according to the language spoken, location, medical specialty, and reviews. And it is now preparing for a world where travel may look completely different.
Air Doctor introduced a telemedicine service in December 2019 that allows travelers to virtually meet with physicians who can speak their native language. It saw a 150% increase in the use of its virtual network in the last two months, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread throughout the world, according to Yuval Zimerman, Air Doctor’s vice president of marketing and global partnerships.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has been gaining traction and breaking through previously held obstacles both on the doctors’ side and the customers’ side,” Zimerman tells NoCamels. “Doctors are beginning to believe in the product as one that does not interfere with connecting with their patients, and on the other side, patients are beginning to see that with today’s technological advances doctors are well suited to provide accurate diagnoses and consultations through a video call. Seeing this trend makes me confident that telemedicine will continue to grow post-COVID-19.”
Zimerman says the company has a “multilingual base of doctors who speak most of the popular languages around the globe and can provide prescriptions globally.
“For now we have the ability to provide a prescription from a virtual consultation in the UK, most of Western Europe, and the USA. This is growing of course,” he said.
As the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold, Air Doctor has used its global network and sources to create a list of COVID-19 testing sites in 28 countries around the world, with the help of the international physicians’ network, said CEO Jenny Cohen Derfler. She co-founded the startup in 2016 with her son Yam Derfler, Air Doctor’s business development manager; Yegor Kurbachev, head of R&D; and Efrat Sagi Ofir, COO.
“We wanted to use our network for good amidst the pandemic,” Cohen Derfler said, “Why not share the resources?”
The comprehensive country-by-country guide includes general information and details on where to find medical help. Though not every country is able to offer assistance in English, Air Doctor can help the patient find and schedule a virtual video appointment with an English-speaking doctor.
While the global page is updated weekly, the company says it is thinking of stopping the updates within a few weeks as countries begin to open up.
Also, last month, the company, which caters to individuals as well as doctors, insurance companies, and mobile network operators in B2B partnerships, announced it would offer its network to mobile operators to help them recover lost roaming revenue caused by the global halt of tourism and business travel. In a post-COVID-19 world, they said, the mobile industry will need to add more value-added service to encourage people to “roam” back into traveling.
“Mobile operators know exactly where their clients are traveling to, so they can very easily customize how their travelers use the service,” said Cohen-Derfler in a statement. “Before COVID-19, travelers generally didn’t think about getting sick when traveling, now, many will be preoccupied by this possibility as they leave quarantine.
“Mobile operators can enhance their customers’ peace of mind by ensuring that they have access to doctors no matter where they travel. Being sick or injured while traveling is frightening and stressful, even more so when you don’t know the culture or speak the language,” she added.
In February, Air Doctor was one of 40 startups selected to be part of the Insurtech Hub Munich’s 2020 Innovation Program, joining companies from Germany, Spain, Singapore, and the UK.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread through Israel in March, Air Doctor raised USD 7.8 million in a Series A funding round led by the insurtech startup studio Kamet Ventures, run by Parisian investment and asset management firm AXA Group. These were existing investors who had also led a USD 3.1 million seed round for the company in July 2018.
The investment was used to bolster Air Doctor’s medical network and R&D capabilities, as well as support its international expansion.
Also leading the Series A was Phoenix, the Israeli insurance company that holds an exclusive partnership with Air Doctor.
Connecting doctors, individuals, and other entities
While Air Doctor calls itself a “complementary” service that can be used by travelers with or without insurance, the company has a number of partnerships with insurance companies, hotels, and other entities.
Air Doctor’s partnership with Phoenix enables anyone with Phoenix travel insurance to use Air Doctor abroad with no out-of-pocket fees.
“As their first corporate client, we saw first-hand the impact that Air Doctor’s unique offering had on our business and on our customer satisfaction. We are proud to be backing Air Doctor in this next stage of their growth as they seek to transform the travel insurance market globally,” said Dudi Oz, head of travel insurance for Phoenix.
Cohen Derfler says at least 95% of Phoenix travel customers who have needed medical care while traveling have used their network. She also claims that Phoenix grew its revenue by 30% because of Air Doctor.
The company has a feature on its app that connects the patient to the healthcare provider, allowing for quick payment and reimbursement. The patient can also arrange payments via a credit card.
Cohen Derfler explains that when this first began in May 2019, the first customers saw money back in their account within five days.
Air Doctor was founded after Yam Derfler, then a newly released Israeli soldier traveling the world, got sick in Mexico and couldn’t find a doctor. He brought his mother, Jenny, a former employee at Intel, on board, as well as R&D head Kurbachev, and COO Sagi Ofir.
While founded in 2016 to put travelers “in control of their health,” the company only went live in the summer of 2018 after raising a seed round.
The company first cultivated its network in Israel and Greece, before spreading to Germany, Spain, France, and other countries.
Today, the company is live in 42 countries and continues to grow. Air Doctor is also beginning to create a network in Southeast Asia, Cohen Derfler tells NoCamels, and building infrastructure for customers in Japan, the UK, and China.
“The infrastructure is still being built,” said Zimerman, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic did delay things. “We expect to see travelers heading out again by the end of the summer season.”
“Companies we are in contact with are very eager to build the infrastructure now, so they will be ready for the day after, since they expect most people will buy travel insurance moving forward,” he said.
Cohen Derfler tells NoCamels that doctors in the network are not just doctors that happen to be in certain areas. Air Doctor partners with them, she explains, making sure they are licensed, trusted, professional, and have had all their background checks.
“Doctors are from the community,” she says. “We market them for free. It’s a win-win for the doctor and the patient.”
This article first appeared in NoCamels, which covers innovations from Israel for a global audience.