Residents at a slum area in Surabaya, Indonesia

When talking about the Indonesian digital industry, e-commerce and fintech might be the top sectors that come up in the general public’s mind.

However, despite its lack of popularity, several startups working in the healthtech sector have sprung up in the country.

There are startups such as PesanLab, which offers a booking service for laboratory testing, or Homecare24 which offers on-demand home care services.

Even ride-hailing giant Go-Jek has branched out into the sector with the launch of drug delivery service Go-Med and an acquisition of Indian home healthcare marketplace Pianta.

In September 2016, Go-Jek took part in a US$13 million Series A funding round for HaloDoc, a telemedicine platform that President Joko Widodo once dubbed as “one of the four local startups that will leverage Indonesia’s position as ‘Digital Energy of Asia.'”

Later, Go-Jek eventually integrated its Go-Med service into the HaloDoc platform.

Now is the best time for Indonesian digital industry players –which includes both entrepreneurs and investors– to start looking more deeply into the healthtech sector.

Speaking at a panel discussion hosted by Indonesian association for venture capital investment (Amvesindo), hospital chain Bunda Medik Healthcare System (BMHS), and coworking space H-Cube in Central Jakarta, Kejora Ventures Founding Partner Sebastian Togelang stressed the importance of timing in the tech industry.

He gave an example of a startup in Germany which was founded by a personal friend many years ago. The startup offered a pizza delivery service, a wildly popular service in many parts of the world but the business failed to take off –simply because it utilises fax machines as a means to connect customers to food services.

“Market … and technological readiness are the basic requirements,” he said.

“The healthtech industry itself is relatively new … It has only started to take off around 2009-2010, and by the time the investment was only around US$1 million. By 2017, within half a year, the number has grown to US$6-7 billion … and may reach US$10 billion within the next few years. [Of this number] around US$1.5 billion will be allocated in Asia,” he explained.

Though the number of healthtech investment in Indonesia may only take a small percentage of it, Togelang believes that this is not a reason to give up on developing a healthtech industry in the country.

Setting up a telemedicine platform to connect patients in Papua (Indonesia’s easternmost province) to doctors in Java might be a great idea in principle, but from investor’s perspective, it is better for startups to start by solving the bigger issues.

“It will take one to two years to grow exponentially. The key is to have patience and start with services that are needed by a great number of people,” he stresses.

The situation on the ground

When it comes to potential, there are plenty of exciting opportunities in the Indonesian healthcare sector.

According to Dr. Ivan R. Sini, a renowned gynaecologist and a commissioner at BMHS, the Indonesian market is a “dynamic” one with the existence of its demographic bonus, universal healthcare system, and increasing purchase power.

“We used to see the Indonesian healthcare market as segmented, with the market having limited capacity to purchase good quality healthcare products. But recently the buying capacity has increased rapidly. Healthcare has become a primary need,” he explains.

“Hospitals need to be creative in trying to cater to the big number of patients, but at the same time, we also see this as an opportunity … For hospitals, instead of investing in R&D, it is better for us to engage the startup community, in order to build something that we can share,” he continues.

So what exactly are the challenges faced by the Indonesian healthcare sector?

One can write a book of all existing challenges, but dr. Gregorius Bimantoro, the founder of healthtech startup Atoma Medical, mentioned three of the most crucial that his company is aiming to solve: Disparity between the number of doctors available to treat every citizen, lack of access to information, and availability of products and services.

Atoma Medical aims to answer these challenges through the two platforms that it runs. The first one is TanyaDok, a Q& A platform runs by doctors and medical professionals, while the second one is ProSehat, an online marketplace for medicine and healthcare products.

TanyaDok has managed to secure 700,000 monthly page views and one million total users from web and community, while the ProSehat mobile app has secured 54,000 installations; 45,000 monthly web visit; with a network of 5,000 doctors.

Dr. Bimantoro admitted that this is not a very big number and that the startup is working on introducing their platform to a wider audience.

The issues are faced not only by patients seeking greater access to healthcare but also by medical professional themselves.

Kristina (like many Indonesians, she goes only by her first name) has worked as a midwife for more than 10 years, and she had seen first hand how medical professionals are struggling to make ends meet.

“Based on data from the industrial organisation, every year there are almost 100,000 graduates from midwifery and nursing schools. But almost 30 to 40 per cent of them is unemployed. In rural areas, there are midwives who work for 24 hours … And they only make between IDR300,000 (US$22) to IDR500,000 (US$37) per month despite having been in service for years,” she explains.

This concern led her to found Medis Online Indonesia, a platform that aims to connect patients to midwives and nurses for home care services. Through the platform, Kristina hopes that the nurses and midwives would be able to improve their living by getting extra income from home care services.

“We gather them in a training centre to improve their core competencies, their attitude,” she adds.

What startups need to do

There is a lot of homework left for tech startups when it comes to developing the healthtech sector in Indonesia.

One of the most important is handling trust issues, for example, patients’ reluctance to purchase medicines online for fear of counterfeiting.

“I think this is a learning process for all of us, especially with the fact that healthtech sector is in its early stage in Indonesia,” Dr. Bimantoro says.

In looking at the kind of solutions that might be beneficial for the Indonesian healthcare sector, naturally one would look at solutions that have been successfully applied abroad.

But Dr. Bimantoro warns that this is something that has to be done with caution, considering the importance of adapting the solutions to the situation on the ground.

“An interesting case study is about when Practo entered the Indonesian market … [They offer] a model that happens to work so well in India, but not so much when taken into the Indonesian market,” he says.

“Our team has also been trying, so many times, to validate such idea for the market. How can we make the process of making a doctor’s appointment easier in Indonesia? We are still struggling to do that. So it all comes down to the validation process,” he closes.

This article was first published on e27 on September 1, 2017.

Image Credit: dodohawe / 123RF Stock Photo