When you get sick or hurt, it can take days or weeks to get an appointment with a doctor. Then, you drive a long way to get there. You sit in the waiting room with other sick people. It’s a familiar scenario.
Now imagine a faster, easier way. Imagine having a secure e-chat or video call with a doctor within minutes of sending your request. You describe your symptoms online using your mobile phone, desktop or tablet. You get a diagnosis and treatment plan, and your prescription gets sent digitally to your pharmacy of choice—all while you sit in your home or office.
What you are imagining is a system that has already been put into place, created by a company called Maple.
Maple is an innovative mobile app, launched in January 2017, that provides all-day, any day, online access to doctors across Canada. “It is incredibly convenient for both the patient and the physician, and there is almost zero waiting time for patients,” says Dr. Bharat Bahl, one of almost 200 doctors in the growing Maple network.
The app is designed to help people with common, non-emergency medical conditions such as the flu, urinary tract infections, eye and ear infections, skin issues, fever and diarrhea. It can also be used for sexual health issues and mental health concerns. Dr. Bahl helped a patient with severe anxiety and agoraphobia, who wanted to get better but couldn’t leave her home to see a doctor. “I think we were able to take a small but meaningful step in breaking the self-perpetuating cycle that she was stuck in,” he says.
The cost per consultation on Maple is $49, but is higher on weekends ($79) and at night ($99). There is also a membership option.
Maple sees itself as an add-on to provincial healthcare programs, which generally do not cover online consultations with doctors. “We have a healthcare system here in Canada that is envied around the world. So why can’t we have a conversation with a doctor online?” asks Roxana Zaman, co-founder and COO of Maple.
In 2015, Zaman left behind a steady, upwardly mobile job in the banking sector to join entrepreneurs Dr. Brett Belchetz, an emergency room physician, and Stuart Starr, a technology and design whiz, to create and launch the company.
They attracted investment from MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund (IAF), among others and, to date, have raised $5.5 million.
“Maple cuts through the noise because you have founders who understand health and business; they are bringing something really unique to the table,” says Michelle McBane, senior investment director at IAF.
It seems there is a great Canadian appetite for instant medical care. One year after launch, Maple had 20,000 users, a number that climbed to 40,000 by October 2018. Sales are growing at a rate of 15 per cent month over month, and Maple is now operating in every province. The company has expanded to work with employers to provide virtual healthcare services to their employees, and it has partnered with insurance company Sun Life Financial, which offers Maple’s digital services to clients.
Like many online services, Maple asks users to rate their experience after every visit. More than 91 per cent of patients have rated the service as five-out-of-five, a stat that thrills Zaman. “The best part of my job is going through the reviews. I love to hear, ‘It made my day and I’m going to tell people about it,’” she says.
“It has been a tough, challenging road, but I have not looked back,” says Zaman. “Starting a business takes courage, perseverance, resilience and a high tolerance for risk. What keeps me motivated is the idea that I can directly help make a difference in people’s lives,” she says.
Maple’s platform is now being used in the hospital system, with its first six-month pilot taking place at the Western Hospital in Alberton, P.E.I., a small community of only 1,149 residents. Patients there will now be able to consult with their doctor through a computer monitor that has been wheeled into their room, enabling doctors to consult remotely and see their patients on the fly.
What’s next for Maple? The company wants to keep building its network of doctors and expanding globally. They also want to make Maple accessible to as many people as possible by working with employers, insurers and hospitals.
For Dr. Bahl, who works 12 to 15 shifts a month in a busy hospital emergency department, Maple allows him to help people on his own time, from the comfort of his home.
“In some cases, patients need to see a physician in person,” he says. “But there are a lot of appointments that could be done using a platform such as Maple. This benefits patients and physicians, and allows for a more efficiently run healthcare system. It is the future of medicine.”