HealthEngine CEO Dr Marcus Tan says the company's recently secured $26.7 million in funding is a “game changer” as the battle for online healthcare booking supremacy heats up in Australia.

Slow to catch on, healthcare providers are gaining traction in the online booking arena with an enthusiasm that sees numerous online platforms and search engines such as HealthEngine, MyHealth1st, HotDoc and ASX-listed Jayex's Appointuit all battling for attention and market share.

The most recent blow was landed by HealthEngine, which in April announced it secured $26.7 million in venture capital funding, which was led by Sequoia India. The funding means HealthEngine has now raised around $50 million in recent years.

“It certainly is a game changer in the sense that we've got a lot more resources now, so we can do more things a lot more quickly,” Tan told Healthcare IT News Australia.

Other industries such as live music, hotels and travel have used online booking platforms and industry specific search engines for years, so why has healthcare taken so long to adapt to the new world order?

Klaus Bartosch, co-founder and Managing Director of 1ST Group and their platform explained: “Change is difficult for most businesses. [Healthcare] is one of the last industries that still relies heavily on fax machines to this day. I think that is revealing.”

“Having said this, the adoption rates in the past two years has been staggering and points to more rapid transition over the coming years.”

In fact, Bartosch said the number of monthly new patients using search engine MyHealth1st has surged 700 per cent since 2015.

One reason HealthEngine's Tan believes doctors have taken so long to introduce online booking to their practices is because they initially doubted their patients' ability to work out how long their consultation would need to be.

“With online booking you're trusting patients to self-serve their own appointment and work out how long they need. So they've generally used receptionists to try and do that,” he said.

“But what they've realised is that people are quite capable of doing it themselves.”

Australian Medical Association Vice President Dr Tony Bartone agreed: “There are some older patients who end up taking a lot more time than they think they will. You need to override that online booking in that case.

“But for the majority of cases for straightforward simple stuff, it's obviously the way of the future.”

Another great benefit of online booking is that it frees up staff throughout the day, given that 50 per cent of all appointments booked online are after hours when the practice is closed, said MyHealth1st's Bartosch.

So what kind of potential market numbers are we talking about here? Bartosch said there was a major opportunity to transition approximately 47 million monthly private practice appointments booked over the telephone to online.

“At present we believe that subscription fees from SaaS/portal platforms for practices used by consumers represents a $240 million market. [But there's] plenty of room for growth and transformation,” he said.

On the market potential for HealthEngine, which runs a search engine akin to hotel booking platform Wotif as well as providing online booking platforms to general practices, Tan pointed out that in general practice in Australia there's about 140 million consultations per year.

“Probably about 7-10 per cent of those consultations are basically new patients to a practice. We currently charge somewhere between $6-$8 on average for [booking] a new patient into a practice,” he said.

“Then you've got 6000 practices that are willing to pay circa $30-$50 per month per practitioner for their own online booking system, and there's usually five practitioners per practice. And those are just two products.”

So with the market now finally getting into full swing, what does the future hold for those vying for space?

In one word: consolidation.

One company that's been busy in the acquisition market is MyHealth1st. Bartosch said it's a growth strategy that has been working well for the company.

“A method to accelerate company growth has been through successful acquisitions, including three to date: GObookings, Clinic Connect and DocAppointments,” said Bartosch.

Tan added: “There is already a certain amount of saturation in this market. And as people continue to build platforms but not get traction then naturally there's consolidation. We're already seeing that to some extent and we'll continue to do so.”



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