Doctor Anywhere, WhiteCoat, Doctor World… Can Telemedicine Apps Save Us Money?
Opinions about doctors fall firmly in one of two opposing camps. Either you’re a true believer of the power of modern medicine and rush to the clinic at the first sneeze, or you think GPs are quacks and only go because you need an MC.
Whatever it is, I think we can all agree that seeing the doctor in Singapore isn’t cheap.
But now that there are so many new “telemedicine” apps like Doctor Anywhere, WhiteCoat, etc., can Singaporeans now save money and time on treating common illnesses?
What even are telemedicine apps!?
Telemedicine apps, or “doctor apps”, allow you to consult a real doctor either via video call or a message-based chat. After the consultation and diagnosis, you can get your meds and MC delivered to your home.
Yeah I know, it’s a little sketchy-sounding, but it’s definitely convenient… If the doctor doesn’t misdiagnose you, that is.
At last count, there are 11 “telemedicine” providers in Singapore under the Ministry of Health’s watchful eye.
Of these, there are 5 that are available for regular patients to use for consultations: Doctor Anywhere, MaNaDr, Doctor World, WhiteCoat and Sata CommHealth.
There’s also HiDoc, which is for seeing specialists instead of GPs.
The others fall into different categories. For example, MyDoc and MHC Healthcare (Care+) are company-facing employee health benefit programmes. You can’t download the app and get a consultation unless your employer paid for it.
There’s also SpeeDoc and Rescu.sg, two platforms that focus on on-demand house calls.
Finally, Parkway Shenton supposedly also offers a telemedicine service, but I couldn’t find anything on their website.
How much do Doctor Anywhere & other apps cost?
|Telemedicine app||Cost of standard consultation|
|MaNaDr||Depends on provider|
These fees are for the most basic of consultations. In some cases, limits may apply, e.g. 15 minutes, or 5 messages. If you exceed them, you may be charged more. I also did not the cost of medication because it varies, obviously.
Based on consultation fees, I would say that apps like Doctor Anywhere are fairly competitive against “real” clinics.
Of course, it’ll almost certainly be more expensive than going to the polyclinic (where subsidised fees start from $13.20 per consultation). But you have to brave the endless queues for that.
If you’re going to your neighbourhood GP, that’ll cost more like $25 for the consultation, which is on par with that of the most expensive telemedicine app.
Though there are just 5 options, choosing a telemedicine provider can be tough as there are a lot of subtle differences to consider. I’ll go through each app one by one.
Doctor World — $18 consultation including delivery
Doctor World is an app that promises 24/7 video consultations for the extremely low cost of $18, which includes free delivery for your medication.
At such a low, all-in fee, you would think that Doctor World is made up of unlicensed freelance quacks sitting at home in their T-shirts.
But no! Its doctors are from reputed healthcare partners, most significantly the Raffles Medical chain of clinics. There are also smaller clinics (Drs Chua & Partners and Newcastle Clinic) on there. Not too bad.
Note that the $18 video consultation is capped at 15 minutes. Should your consultation exceed this time frame, you may have to pay more.
Doctor World is also clear on what illnesses can be diagnosed via video. These include only generic things like menstrual cramps, headaches and sore throats.
Should the doctor realise that your condition cannot be diagnosed on a call, he/she will end the call and you will not be charged. You can read more FAQs here.
Sata CommHealth — fixed fee of $12.50 consultation + $7 delivery
One of the cheaper telehealth providers comes from Sata Commhealth, an established chain of clinics in Singapore.
The system is quite simple. There is no special app to download. Instead, you simply initiate a WhatsApp video call and speak to whoever is available. The consultation costs a flat $12.50.
You may then be given an MC and prescribed medication, or a referral letter to a specialist, which is then delivered to you at $7 per delivery.
That means the total cost per “visit” is $19.50 exluding the cost of medication. Payment can be made by credit card or Paypal.
The fees are surprisingly reasonable considering it’s an established chain of clinics. However, you can only call during operating hours (Mon to Fri 8.30am to 5pm, Sat and Sun 8.30am to 1pm).
Doctor Anywhere — $20 consultation, has $15 baby consultation option
Doctor Anywhere is one of the first few telemedicine startups in Singapore, and it’s one of the slickest operations. However, it’s not backed by any major healthcare household name (unlike Sata CommHealth and Doctor World).
The premise is similar to that of Doctor World, open the app and get connected to an available doctor, who will conduct a video consultation. This costs $20 and includes delivery of medication / MC.
Should your case be unsuitable for a video consultation, you will be informed within the first 2 minutes of your video call to see a “real” doctor. You will not be charged.
Doctor Anywhere also offers 2 other more niche services: Newborn consultations and medical aesthetics consultations.
A newborn consultation costs $15 and is basically a platform for new parents to get quick advice for common baby problems, like breastfeeding and natal care. That’s really useful, I imagine.
For medical aesthetics, that’s when you want to speak to an aesthetic doctor about stuff like acne scar removal or facelifts or hair fall treatments. Each consultation costs $20.
WhiteCoat — $25 consultation, can prescribe chronic disease meds
WhiteCoat is slightly more sophisticated than the other apps I’ve talked about. While the rest are mainly for healthy folks who caught the cold and want a day off from work, WhiteCoat offers a bit more.
You can get help with more complex needs, like sexual health advice, reviewing lab results and travel medication advice.
But the most interesting service is chronic disease management: WhiteCoat doctors can prescribe medication for diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, presumably only if you are already diagnosed.
Since the consultation fee is a reasonable $25, it’s quite a decent option for those with these common conditions and who are not so mobile. (Thinking of my parents and grandparents here.)
Should you get a prescription, you can choose to buy the medication directly from WhiteCoat and get it delivered at an extra fee.
Note that the $25 consultation fee is only for their office hours (8am to 7.59pm from Mon to Sat). For after-hours consultation (8pm to midnight from Mon to Sat; 8am to midnight on Sun & PH) it costs $50.
MaNaDr — no fixed fees, chat consultation available
MaNaDr is not so much a consultation app so much as a peer-to-peer app to connect patients to clinics or doctor. You can book a physical visit as well as request an e-consultation. Unlike the other apps, MaNaDr offers chat consultations in addition to video calls.
Chat consultations start from from $10 for the first 5 messages (but I have seen $20 too) and $0.70 per message subsequently.
Video consultations, if available, start from $10 for the first 3 minutes (but I have seen as high as $40). Subsequently, you can be charged at $0.50 or $1 per minute. Yikes, better keep it concise.
I personally don’t like that there’s no standard rate, but on the other hand, you can choose the doctor. Plus, chatting would be cheaper than video consultations for simple, post-visit follow-up questions.
Bonus: HiDoc — from $100 consultation with a specialist
Okay, so the apps above cover general healthcare needs like common illnesses, post-natal care and chronic diseases. What’s been missing so far is a platform for going to a specialist.
If you’ve ever tried to see a specialist for your condition, you’ll know that it’s either a trying or expensive affair (or both).
For most Singaporeans, the standard route is to go through the polyclinic and get a specialist referral from there. This allows you to benefit from a subsidised rate offered at most hospitals.
However, if you want to seek a second opinion, you will very likely have to walk in as a private patient and be charged a much higher rate. This can cost over $150 for a consultation.
HiDoc is an app that offers video consultations with specialists more cheaply, quickly and conveniently. You can choose the specialist you want to see, and it costs $120 for the initial consultation (promotion: now $100 nett) and $80 subsequently.
HiDoc also allows you to book physical visit appointments and buy prescription medication through their partner Watsons.
Telemedicine apps might save time & money, but…
The consultation fees of Doctor Anywhere and other telemedicine apps are attractive, but not dramatically cheaper than the rates at private GPs.
However, how much you’ll end up spending is hard to predict, because it depends a lot on your medication. You might be prescribed whatever pricey medicine the doctor wants to push.
But the main draw for me would be the time savings. I understand that there is some waiting time before you can start a video consultation, but at least you can lie in bed comfortably. That’s infinitely preferable to the purgatory that is the clinic waiting room.
A least in theory, these apps can save you both money and time.
… So what could possibly go wrong?
Risk #1: Misdiagnosis
One is the chance of misdiagnosis due to the limitations of technology.
I don’t care how many lenses your iPhone 11 has. As far as I know, Silicon Valley’s PiperChat isn’t yet a real thing, so internet video chats are still pretty bad quality compared to, you know, being looked at in real life.
What if you have other symptoms that are too subtle to be detected? You know, things like the smell of your breath during the “aah” test, that kind of thing. I know that the doctor is supposed to evaluate whether you’re even suitable for a video consultation, but still…
If you’re misdiagnosed, it might result in added costs as you try to backtrack and get a second opinion or re-diagnosis.
Risk #2: Employer does not recognise MC
I probably won’t have this problem since I work in a startup — we can hardly discredit a fellow startup’s credibility, can we? — but I imagine that presenting an “electronic MC” might not go down so smoothly with some employers.
Actually, the government has been trying to push for digital MCs. You can now get a digital MC from government hospitals and polyclinics. This takes the form of a customised URL, which can be forwarded to your company’s HR department.
However, I very much doubt that an MC issued by some unheard-of app can have the same effect as one with a Ministry of Health stamp on it.
So before opting for a video e-consultation, it’s best to check with your HR team to see if this is acceptable.
But if the telemedicine industry takes off, then this should be less of a problem in the future. Just think of how difficult it used to be to claim Grab and Uber (RIP) receipts years ago. The times, they are a-changin’.
Would you rather see a doctor or video chat with her? Tell us what you think.