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Brits can start scheduling appointments to get Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot as early as next week, after the UK regulator approved the vaccine on Monday. They can get it from their family doctor, certain hospitals or large vaccination centres, with those most at risk from coronavirus first in line. Those in care homes or housebound will receive the vaccine at home.
About 7,500 family-doctor practices across the UK must have a booking system in place so people can easily get both of the doses that Pfizer’s shot requires, and so that the practices can track it and qualify for a financial incentive payment.
That’s creating an opportunity for a 20-person telehealth start-up called Qdoctor, which has stepped in to offer a booking service for family practices. And the company is in demand across the UK.
Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Chris Whittle told Business Insider that the company has received about 300 to 400 inquiries in the past 2 weeks. And there’s roughly 30 to 40 primary care practices already booking flu clinics on the platform with 100% of appointments filled, said Whittle.
A big increase in users, driven by the pandemic
Helping people book appointments is a new offering for Qdoctor. The company mainly connects people with doctors for video visits.
The company has increased its user base significantly this year, with a 738% rise since January for its video consultations. It now has nearly 3,000 healthcare professionals using the video-consultation platform in primary care as well as some urgent care providers, and mental health clinics.
The growth has been propelled by the coronavirus pandemic, which sparked a fast-track NHS Digital accreditation so the company could provide video visits that are paid for by the National Health Service, and are free to patients.
In March, Qdoctor partnered with eConsult to increase its reach. eConsult was the most widely used UK online consultation platform pre-pandemic, and its product is found in 3,200 primary-care clinics, or roughly 46% all UK family doctor offices.
All these practices can use Qdoctor’s booking system to facilitate appointments for people to get the COVID-19 immunization. However, they could also choose to buy or install a booking service from another company.
Otherwise, individual practices or groups of practices can sign up for Qdoctor’s service and start using it within a day.
The startup gives doctors more control over their appointments. For example they could choose to give their patients a special code to book a second vaccination appointment exactly 21 days after their first shot, because the doses of the Pfizer shot have to be given 21 days apart.
Whittle said Qdoctor built in this flexibility because they knew family practices across the UK were approaching the challenge of getting patients in for their COVID-19 immunizations differently.
The appointment system is part of the government-funded video system, so it’s free to use. But, Qdoctor charges for bulk text messages to send appointment reminders to patients.
“So if you want to send out 10,000 SMSs, for example, then we charge a couple of pence per SMS,” said Whittle.
The booking system is compatible with other SMS messaging systems, he added.
Whittle said the cost saving to family practices versus employing extra receptionists to manage the workload is difficult to quantify, but feedback from early adopters for flu clinics has been positive.
Despite its big ambition, Qdoctor is a fairly early stage start-up.
The company raised £1.5 million ($2 million) in Series A funding this year, led by Nesta Impact Investments, a global innovation fund and supported by angel investors and retail investors represented by Seedrs.
“We’re well set because we’ve been clinically-led from the beginning,” explained Whittle, who built the first prototype during a vacation in 2015 when he was still working as a doctor. He then read a 5-day MBA book on commercial fields in his free time to come up with a business model to persuade angel investors with backgrounds in healthcare to fund his idea.
Qdoctor isn’t alone in recognizing an opportunity to use a video-consultation booking system. AccuRx is a healthcare messaging start-up, and also an NHS Digital Supplier for video consultations. It has secured £9.1 million ($12.2 million) investment so far.
Whittle said that Qdoctor differentiates itself because it started within the public sector, the NHS, and built the platform with value in mind. Whittle said that most other telehealth companies come from a private healthcare perspective.
The company’s focus going forward is to solve “the patient access problem,” and further expand into prisons, the ambulance service, care homes, hospital outpatient clinics and other community facilities.
Qdoctor is expecting to grow in 2021, hiring people for business development and engineering roles and announcing a Series B funding round. The scale of that raise is undecided.
As for international expansion, Whittle’s got an open mind.
“It’s an active area of review” he said.