Online medical service saves workers trips to office

Cherif HabibA Montreal-based tech firm is joining the growing list of telemedicine offices setting up shop in Canada.

The company has released Dialogue, an app that connects workers with doctors and nurses through their mobile phone. Employers can subscribe to the service for the cost of about a cup of coffee for each worker per week. Dialogue’s co-founder and CEO, Cherif Habib (pictured), said more than 60 per cent of all doctor visits can be treated without a physical exam and its team can help treat a range of non-urgent conditions from sinus issues, respiratory infections, allergies, the flu, skin problems and mental health illnesses.

A 2015 study by the Harvard Medical School found that the typical visit to the doctor takes 121 minutes, which breaks down to 37 for travel, 64 for waiting and filing out forms and 20 minutes of face time with a physician.

Habib said Dialogue can help employers save their workers this time and, in turn, their money.

With a fresh round of financing under its belt, Dialogue is selling companies on the idea of increasing productivity by reducing the amount of time their employees spend at medical appointments is expanding into Ontario.

Though the startup has been operating for less than a year, it counts global consultants McKinsey & Company and BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and law firms Dentons and BCF, which has 220 legal professionals in Quebec, among its customers.

Companies pay Dialogue a set fee per employee covered, which gives the employee and their family access to Dialogue’s roster of nurses and doctors, including specialists in emergency medicine, dermatology, and pediatrics.

The idea isn’t to keep sick employees at their desks, but rather to cut down on time spent in clinics and emergency rooms waiting to see a doctor, says Habib.

“When somebody needs to go to the doctor, they could easily miss half a day.… If you can save that half a day at the doctor’s, there’s a big ROI (return on investment for the company) there,” he says.

While some people might not be comfortable sharing sensitive health information over a mobile device, Habib says the communication between medical professionals and patients – including video chats and direct messaging – is secure and bound by the same confidentiality rules as a regular visit to a doctor.

Dialogue is part of a wave of startups in mobile healthcare segment, where a handful of companies have launched and received funding in the past year. Dialogue itself just raised $4 million in fresh seed money to fund the expansion outside Quebec.

The latest financing was led by Diagram, a fintech-focused venture capital fund that is backed by Power Financial Corp. The investor group also includes BDC Capital, Canada’s business development bank; Hacking Health Accelerator; and angel investors such as Mark Cohen, co-founder of laser eye surgery juggernaut Lasik MD.

Other players in the mobile healthcare sector include Toronto-based Newtopia, which raised $10 million in October to fund the expansion of its platform that features genetic testing and personalized coaching for employees. The pitch is to create a more productive workforce where “at-risk” employees better manage their health and lifestyles, and employers reduce healthcare costs.

Akira, an app-based startup also based in Toronto, sells directly to customers, with single medical consultations for $49 and unlimited family packages for $240 a year, according to the firm’s website.

Another startup, TranQool, is pitching a niche mobile healthcare service that links individuals with accredited mental health counsellors for online video sessions.

Habib says further growth in the sector is expected as new healthcare technology is developed. For example, if “wearables” that monitor vital signs and even insulin levels were approved, rates of remote diagnoses and treatment plans would be expected to rise, he said.

Already, some estimates suggest up to 70 per cent of primary care visits don’t require a physical exam, Habib said, citing examples such as ordering or reviewing blood tests and renewing prescriptions.

For more information, visit

Source: The Financial Post