A helping hand for the elderly

Tech July 03, 2016 01:00

By Asina Pornwasin
The sunday Na

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Qualified geriatrician Dr Kanapon Phumratprapin turns to technology to address the needs of Thailand’s greying population



One of the Kingdom’s very few qualified geriatricians, Dr Kanapon Phumratprapin is taking care for the elderly a step further through the launch of a new start-up called Health at Home.

Its mission, he tells The Sunday Nation, is to respond to the health needs of the ever-growing number of elderly Thais by offering them home care through professional care givers and providing them and their family members close contact with doctors in real time via the HAH mobile app.

Such a platform, the 33-year-old explains, bridges the gap between hospital and home care.

“Our strategy is to ease the strain on hospitals’ inpatient capacity by effectively turning the home into a health care facility,” Kanapon says.

Kanapon, who is affectionately known as Dr Tum, studied medicine at Chiang Mai University and went on to graduate from Kasetsart University Laboratory School. He was then sent to Phatthalung Province in Thailand’s south, where he worked as an intern in the primary care unit of a 30-bed community hospital for three years. His interest in geriatric medicine prompted him to further his studies at Thammasat University Hospital and then at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City where he stayed for a year.

On his return to Thailand, he took up a full-time post at Bangkok Hospital’s Longevity Centre and stayed there until last year, when he resigned to run Health at Home full time.

“Geriatric medicine is a personal interest for two reasons. First, I am an only child and want to be able to take care of my parents by myself at home when the time comes and, second, I recognise that Thailand’s greying population is growing rapidly and that this segment of society will require specialised care.”

Indeed, current figures show Thailand’s over-60 population is now between eight and nine million, or 13 per cent. That figure is projected to increase to 17 million, or 25 per cent of the population, by the middle of the century. In contrast, total inpatient capabilities of all hospitals and health care units as well as registered nursing homes stands at just 200,000 beds.

Health at Home is not Kanapon’s first entrepreneurial endeavour. Over the last four years in partnership with friend and fellow general practitioner Rath Panyowat, he has also set up the website IAmDr.net to provide reviews of community hospitals throughout Thailand for state-trained medical students about to take up internships. The website was warmly welcomed by interns eager to find information on the province to which they were assigned and on the communities among whom they would be living for the next few years.

“We had between 4,000 to 5,000 users so it was obviously something that was needed,” he says. The success of the website led to the setting up of Iamdr Company (www.IAmDr.co) to provide technology solutions for the healthcare industry including websites for hospitals and an e-textbook app for doctors called DrBook, which brings an entire medical library to a doctor’s fingertips. Health at Home is its latest project.

“At the time, we just wanted to create something new to help the medical community. Hospitals needed clear and easy to follow websites while doctors were crying out for an e-textbook. I was still working full time at Bangkok Hospital but put a lot of time and effort into developing the app. So far it has been downloaded more than 10,000 times. It was a great effort but resulted in only a small outcome,” he says.

“It made me realise that small ideas really only attract small numbers and we needed to go bigger if we were to get more people to join our dreams. That meant devoting more time and energy to our project.”

And that’s exactly what Kanapon did, resigning from Bangkok Hospital and becoming the  full-time chief executive of IAmDr Company. Soon after, he started building Health at Home.

“I am convinced home care for the elderly will have a huge impact and address the real problems,” he says.

Health at Home’s services will not stop at screening and providing caregivers but also will cover telemedicine for home consultations. Other future projects include a partnership with a company to design home renovations suitable for elderly patients and smart home services through wearable and Internet of Things (IoTs) technologies.

Health at Home was formally launched last Christmas and is now in its first phase. It currently offers a matching service of caregivers to elderly patients and advice on care via the HAH app.

Its website, joinhah.com, has 40 caregivers available and so far has provided assistance to 10 families.

“We screen the trained caregivers and once they have been matched to a family, we provide the HAH app to link the family, caregiver, and the hospital together,” Kanapon says.

Thanks to the app, maintaining and updating a patient’s health records can be done round the clock by both caregiver and family members, and can be quickly accessed by doctors during a hospital visit.

Earlier this year, Health at Home was selected to be part of DTAC’s accelerate batch 4 programme and Kanapon says his team gained a great deal of valuable experience from the bootcamp.  This helped him adjust  Health at Home’s startup business model.

“Rath and I were trained as doctors not as managers, so we don’t know a lot about business, management, and entrepreneurship. That’s why the Dtac bootcamp was so helpful,” says Kanapon.

“Our dream has only just become reality and we have a long way to go before we are successful. However, we firmly believe that Health at Home can help solve the problems an ageing society will inevitably pose and have a major impact on lives. We are also convinced that technology can help improve healthcare services and bridge the gap in healthcare services between home and hospital.”