Beyond the connection between patients and doctors, healthcare is possible because of a vast network of state-level entities and businesses that deliver all manner of services and products. These include insurance carriers, governmental agencies, as well as vendors selling medical devices and pharmaceuticals. A profusion of healthtech startups in Southeast Asia target various actors in the industry to streamline the process of handling personal medical care.
mClinica was founded in Singapore in 2012 to address the fragmentation of pharmacies, which are important contact points with patients who are seeking medical care. Drawing on his professional experience in public health and the pharmaceutical industry—including stints at Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer—the company’s founder, Farouk Meralli, had the idea to create software that provides structure and organization to a scattered system. He recognized that pharmacies in Southeast Asia often lack insights about the drugs they sold, and who they sold these medications to, while government-level monitors in certain countries are unable to track the spread of diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, or non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Both of these situations make it difficult for state authorities to shape and adapt public health policies. The consequences of these inefficiencies are borne by patients, particularly when they have to navigate situations involving high medical costs or unavailable drugs. mClinica, Meralli thought, could bridge those gaps.
Focusing on pharmacies
The main reason for the lack of data is that pharmacies in Southeast Asia are mostly mom-and-pop stores that lack tools to streamline their operations. They also aren’t part of a network where data on drug prescriptions and sales is aggregated.
mClinica addresses this fragmentation by using its platform, SwipeRx, to track the medications that are being bought at these locations. SwipeRx connects pharmacy professionals with governments, non-governmental organizations, associations, and academic institutions, providing the latest industry news and protocols, as well as other tools that help manage business operations.
“We basically help these pharmacies with everything they need for their professional practice, and even help them manage their business better,” Meralli told KrASIA over a phone interview.
At the same time, mClinica also operates a separate platform, SnapRx, to help governments and NGOs understand disease trends through the analysis of digitized prescriptions. In doing so, mClinica collects a trove of data on the type of medicines that are being consumed, and is able to generate insights on disease patterns, potentially aiding various agencies that shape public health policy.
Lastly, mClinica also has yet another platform for pharmacies and doctors, simply called Connect. Aside from keeping track of patients’ purchases at pharmacies, Connect also helps these pharmacies build lasting relationships with their clients by offering them discounts at the points of sale, enticing them to return to the same shop to fill prescriptions.
Working with public entities
Notably, mClinica developed the Electronic Drug Safety System (eDSS) for the Philippine government. The software helps the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) understand the way patients use medicine in the country. eDSS is the Philippines’ first integrated national health information system. It generates and updates information about disease trends, allowing health officials to respond quickly to crises, and even predict disease outbreaks. Last year, the FDA issued a mandate that every pharmacy in the country must adopt eDSS.
mClinica has also worked with the Pharmaceutical Association of Thailand, which was set up to serve as the representative body of pharmaceutical professionals. In particular, the organization provides advice to the government on public health. This collaboration led to the creation of educational content addressing the issue of patients skipping their antibiotics.
ASEAN’s diversity leads to localization
The startup’s products were first adopted in the Philippines, and then landed in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia.
Meralli revealed that mClinica currently has a network consisting of 150,000 pharmaceutical professionals and 40,000 pharmaceutical outlets in the markets where is operates. It impacts approximately 150 million patients every month when they visit pharmacies to fill their prescriptions. But the journey hasn’t always been smooth-sailing.
He said that mClinica faced various speed bumps in different countries. For instance, the archipelagic nature of the Philippines made it onerous to visit small-scale pharmacies scattered across the country’s many islands.
Meralli also described Thailand as a major outlier and Vietnam as the most challenging market to do business in. In Thailand, there are good fundamentals in place: A high GDP and good healthcare system sets it apart from other markets that mClinia is active in, resulting in the need to hyperlocalize its marketing strategy. As for Vietnam, constant changes in laws and regulations make it difficult for the company to operate, as mClinica must keep up with those shifts.
In the foreseeable future, mClinica will focus on emerging markets in Southeast Asia, where the company believes it can address massive inefficiency gaps. Specifically, the company is looking to expand to Myanmar within two years.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in Southeast Asia.