France finds a prescription for growth with the Doctolib health application

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During France’s battle against Covid-19, fast-growing tech start-up Doctolib was put in the spotlight when the government called on its platform to help lead the national vaccination campaign.

The seven-year-old company was already familiar to many French people who use its blue-and-white smartphone app to book visits with around 300,000 doctors, dentists and therapists. Valued at more than 1 billion euros during its last fundraising, Doctolib earns money by selling its software services to doctors from € 129 per month, and is free for patients.

Doctolib quickly turned into an invaluable tool in a national crisis – more than three-quarters of vaccine appointments were eventually booked through the site, helping France achieve one of the highest immunization levels in the world. ‘Europe. Its video consultation software has also enabled millions of virtual doctor appointments during lockdowns.

The company has big ambitions to become a global leader in e-health in Europe – think Salesforce for the doctor’s office, as well as a reservation system for patients like OpenTable for restaurants. With Doctolib now present in France, Germany and Italy, it is increasing its turnover by around 50% per year, compared to around 200 million euros currently, and plans to hire 1,000 people next year.

The rise of Doctolib has been a surprising success in a country where the state is omnipresent in the health system and where the private sector is often viewed with suspicion. But it also reflects a larger history of France, which is finally mobilizing to modernize the technological infrastructure that underpins its national health service and its public health system.

There is a lot to do. In France, it is still common for nurses in hospitals to rely heavily on paper records, and underinvestment in healthcare technology is chronic in many countries, according to an OECD study from 2015. to study.

“There is a lot of innovation in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and historically very little in software services and technology,” says Stanislas Niox-Chateau, co-founder and CEO of Doctolib. “We need to update existing systems for the cloud and mobile age. “

Since 2019, a small team struggling in the dark at the French Ministry of Health has been trying to help. He set out a smart strategy on what the state needs to do to facilitate the use of technology to improve patient care and increase efficiency, while upholding core values ​​such as gender equality. ” access to care and confidentiality of health data.

Laura Létourneau, a savvy and enterprising civil servant who is co-leading the project, says that after years of spending money on expensive IT projects such as an electronic patient record system that few doctors used, France has changed its approach to think of the “state as a platform”.

“It’s a bit like a city,” she explains. “We set the rules and build the infrastructure like roads and bridges, and then we rely on others to build the houses and buildings. ”

Létourneau has long studied how to bring France’s sprawling public sector into the 21st century and has co-authored a provocatively titled book Uberize the state before someone does it for us. In the field of health, this means that France is working to create invisible and unattractive things that allow companies such as Doctolib and many others to then develop technological services for doctors and patients.

These include a unique patient identifier, an authentication tool that verifies physician credentials, a digital patient record, software to facilitate electronic prescribing, and extensive work. standardization to connect disparate databases. Its work is supercharged by 2 billion euros from France’s Covid recovery plan, which will be deployed until the end of 2023.

Next year, a long-awaited new portal for patients will be launched, which will help them coordinate their care between physicians and deliver approved apps and services, much like Apple’s App Store.

For once, the French government is doing all of this in close collaboration with the private sector. For example, during the first lockdown, Létourneau’s team created a system in just three weeks that linked the country’s myriad of diagnostic labs to a national database so that Covid test results could be tracked in real time. . With all the usual rules suspended due to the crisis, they worked directly with three software companies.

Such collaboration is at least one positive thing to come out of the pandemic.

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