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WorldCare pioneers e-health service provider model in Asia

Friday, April 7, 2000

KUALA LUMPUR: Local telemedicine application developer WorldCare Health Malaysia is gearing up to become Asia's first e-health service provider.

Its managing director Rajiv Ramprasad outlined to this reporter an aggressive strategy to create a fully Internet-based health service company offering a variety of products including direct consultation from specialists in US hospitals.

"We strongly believe Asia is ripe for high quality e-health company offering the best medical services the world has to offer in a neat package. e-health is set to explode within the next three years and we are priming up for the coming boom," he said.

Rajiv said that WorldCare is in the midst of forming a new entity called WorldCare Asia to be incorporated in Singapore and expects to get its first phase funding by September.

The company's initial target markets are Malaysia, India and Philippines with a physical presence in each country by 2001. "Malaysia will serve as the hub for Southeast Asia. We have committed to move to the Multimedia Super Corridor's Cyberjaya and occupy a brand new building there by late 2000. This is in addition to our Network Operating Center (NOC) at Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia," he said.

Rajiv said India will serve as the second NOC for South Asia. "We plan to set-up at least 35 hubs and 'spokes' across India linked into some of the best Indian medical institutions." A hub is a primary hospital, while each spoke will be a networked secondary medical facility.

He revealed that the company has already concluded preliminary negotiations with an IT company to host its NOC and software facilities in India.

WorldCare Asia plans to roll out offices in Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Shanghai between 2001 and 2002.

"Initially we picked countries that use English for medical transactions. We are looking at Korea and Japan, but only once software customization is complete. A lot of that will be done in India where we are currently in discussion with a software house for a strategic Asian alliance," he said.

To support its strategy, WorldCare Asia plans to raise funding in three tranches worth US$65 million. "The first two tranches worth US$40 million is earmarked to create a e-health/ telemedicine network along with Internet based products under an application service provider (ASP) model," he said.

A third tranche of US$25 million will be for the set up of 10 imaging centers offering Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), CT (computed tomography) and Bone Density scanning across India, Malaysia and Philippines. The centers will be supervised by Harvard Medical School and WorldCare's consortium hospitals in the US.

"When you walk into these centers you will receive the same quality of care as in the US and will be linked to their doctors and nurses there," he said.

WorldCare expects to gain return on invesment in two years time from implementation. "By then, we should be looking to an IPO either on the NASDAQ or a local Asian bourse and the shareholders can choose to cash out substantially at that point," he said.

Rajiv said WorldCare Asia's main revenue and profit generators will be its existing niche telemedicine products such as its second opinion consultation services and a global health plan policy.

Policy holders can obtain second opinions from consultants linked to four member hospitals in the US including Partners HealthCare System, composed of the leading teaching affiliates of the Harvard Medical School, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Duke University Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"The Global Health Plan is an insurance rider offering critical care in four major categories: cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurosurgery and major limb amputations. If a person is diagnosed with a listed illness through our system, he will be flown to the US and treated at one of the four hospitals. We plan to expand the list of hospitals soon."

Rajiv indicated that the company is aware that stock prices of other health sites have suffered in recent weeks.

drkoop.com, Healtheon/WebMD and Drugstore.com are trading closer to their 52-week lows of late.

"Future Net companies may have to have more sustainable business models. We think if we move fast and with our right blend of services we can be successful," he said.

He noted that the Internet is empowering people to be more informed on ailments and healthcare issues than ever before. "Healthcare portals will force greater interaction and communication in the doctor-patient relationship. Under no circumstances can this be bad," he said, adding that it is important to verify medical information obtained from the Net.

Rajiv added that demand for better medical care is "quite substantial" given the increasing number of upper middle-class consumers in the region. "A survey on the rich and upper middle-class had indicated that they suffer from the same disease patterns as in the US. An example is the state of Punjab, one of the three richest states in India, that has high cases of cardiac disease. We are offering programs to this niche markets that will be similar to the West," he said.

Rajiv said that WorldCare Asia, however, does not plan to ignore the lower-income groups. "Malaysia has taught us that we can mesh the public and private sectors and create an efficient network that can service the needs of both the rich and the poor without compromising on quality. Very few ventures offer this exhilarating mixture," he said.

WorldCare Health Malaysia has spent the last three years developing a teleconsultation application for Malaysia's MSC project and was awarded a US$5.5 million government contract here in January. Teleconsultation is a component of the national telemedicine blueprint aimed at improving public healthcare services through technology.

"Malaysia has taught us a lot and given us the credibility (to export the model)," he added.

WorldCare Health Malaysia is a joint venture of global health service company WorldCare Limited, local medical group Pantai Holdings Bhd, Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan and Concorde Investments Limited of Saudi Arabia.

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(Published in CNET Asia, April 7, 2000)

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