"I think I'm the kind of person who was always a little bit more suited towards entrepreneurship. I'm a bit of a risk-taker. I love the idea of creating something from nothing.
I also found medicine a little bit constraining. It's a very one-on-one interaction. Whereas business, it's one-to-many. For me, that's personally more fulfilling." - HotDoc CEO and co-founder Dr Ben Hurst.
While the idea of connecting people with their healthcare provider seems straightforward, building a platform to execute it seamlessly took HotDoc almost three years.
Founded by Dr Ben Hurst, Simon Holland and Tom Spacek a decade ago, the patient engagement platform has come a long way from being a glitchy prototype.
Speaking with Business News Australia, Hurst shared how in the beginning HotDoc only had two users - his mother who runs a medical clinic, and his cousin who had agreed to sign up as a customer one drunken night.
When he began to approach clinics, the platform was able to connect to three types of medical software – MedicalDirector, Best Practice and Zedmed – which at the time catered to 80 per cent of the market.
Despite this, Hurst said the process to onboard clinics was “difficult” as they were hesitant to transition into cloud computing.
“I think medical centres are one of the slower-moving industries,” he said.
“It was quite an arduous process to convince them of the benefits of going to the cloud.
“But by sheer dint of persistence - and never say die over time - I think people started to understand that this was actually a better way of doing business and providing better patient experiences.”
While HotDoc was compatible with most software, Hurst did run into some instances when the platform was impractical.
“I used to drive down to Geelong. I’d talk to four general practitioners (GPs) - we’d do a really good demo and then I'd learn at the very end of the meeting they were using the wrong software. We couldn't help them after all of that,” he said.
Today, the application assists almost nine million active users in Australia and caters to more than 95 per cent of software integrations available to GPs.
HotDoc has also built relationships with large-scale clinic operators such as Better Medical, Healius (ASX: HLS) and Fullerton Health.
Charging each practitioner $75 per month, the platform gives them access to what Hurst described as an "all-you-can-eat-buffet” of software features, which includes bookings, reminders, recalls, feedback and more.
HotDoc timeline (provided by HotDoc)
A doctor turned novelist turned entrepreneur, he notes that whilst he had the “domain knowledge” of healthcare, Spacek was the engineer behind the platform whilst Holland managed aspects of design and business.
“When I met Tom and Simon, I had never seen a software engineer before. It was like I was looking at a new species of animal for the first time. I had connections within Australian healthcare. What they had was the ability to build it and actually turn an idea into something a tangible solution,” Hurst said.
“It was a nice confluence of three very different skill sets coming together to get to a difficult but achievable outcome.”
For Hurst, there was a significant learning curve.
“I was very green in the day. 10 years later, you understand things that were very much first-time things - like how to be a good manager, how to write a business plan, how to talk to investors. Those were absolutely foreign to me,” Hurst said.
When asked about whether he thought HotDoc would have grown this quickly without the COVID-19 pandemic, he didn’t hesitate to answer plainly.
“No,” Hurst laughed.
“It was a very significant accelerant. Obviously, [the pandemic] is not something that we ever would have wanted to happen but because GPs were the most important engine of vaccine distribution in the country and a huge number of Australians needed to access a vaccine, the most convenient way was to do so online."
HotDoc has seen a “very significant increase” in patient bookings, which more than doubled year-on-year in January to three million.
While the application has implemented features that allow you to add payment methods and family members to your account, Hurst envisions the future of HotDoc as a place where users can access more tools to manage their health.
He said the Melbourne-based company did “not have ambitions for global expansion.”
“We see HotDoc as a place where if you're patient, you can start to manage your healthcare and healthcare of your family. A place where you can have your care team on your phone, where you can have your medication scripts [or] your pathology results," Hurst explained.
“What we don't want to automate away is the important connection that patients really need to have with their doctor. To build important therapeutic relationships, for patients to take more ownership of their health [and] for them to ingest the doctor's advice and take heed of it.”
He believed it would take approximately take three years for all of the aforementioned features to gradually come into play.
“We feel patients find it so difficult to manage their health because you might have your script on your fridge, you accidentally lost your specialist referral [or] your children's vaccine diaries somewhere,” he said.
“We think there's a really great opportunity to help Australians by putting it all in one place. That's a really big part of sort of our growth story going forward.”
To fund the journey there, the company announced its plans to raise $30 million in a Series D raise in October 2021.
However, Hurst says the goal post has shifted since then.
Instead of gunning for overseas investment, HotDoc is now looking towards "strategic players" such as Australian hospitals and medical clinic owners.
“We were looking at pathways to raise that $30 million and the types of investors who are looking to play in that space are often overseas," Hurst said.
“They're able to offer capital and expertise to move into new geographies, but they're not necessarily so valuable around building a really significant community and platform in homegrown Australia.”
“What we're considering now is looking at a crowd-based strategy to build a HotDoc community within the funding model.”
Hurst said that the company was “not aiming to raise as much” as their initial target, but did not disclose the readjusted funding goal.
“We're getting lots of interest and we found it to be a really useful model. Not just for raising money but also building really valuable relationships in the space.”
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