There are few things as stressful as falling ill while traveling and needing to see a doctor. (Save maybe having your stuff stolen). Locating clinics can be a challenge, doctors aren’t expected to speak your language, and miscommunication abounds — to the point where one could even be given the wrong treatment. And what of those hospital or clinic bills?
Israeli startup Air Doctor attempts to take away the stress by connecting travelers with local medical doctors. Even as travel bans and social distancing all over the world have kept people largely at home, the company has continued to provide its essential services throughout the global health crisis.
The startup built a platform that helps travelers locate an appropriate physician abroad by language spoken, location, medical specialty, and reviews. And it is now preparing for a world where travel may look completely different.
Air Doctor introduced a telemedicine service in December 2019 that allows travelers to virtually meet with physicians who can speak their native language. It saw a 150 percent increase in the use of its virtual network in the last two months, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread throughout the world, according to Yuval Zimerman, Air Doctor’s VP of marketing and global partnerships.
Zimerman says the company has a “multilingual base of doctors who speak most of the popular languages around the globe, and in addition, can provide prescriptions globally.
“For now we have the ability to provide a prescription from a virtual consultation in the UK, most of Western Europe and the USA. This is growing of course,” he said.
As the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold, Air Doctor has used its global network and sources to create a global list of COVID-19 testing sites in 28 countries around the world, with the help of the international physicians’ network, said CEO Jenny Cohen Derfler. She co-founded the startup in 2016 with her son Yam Derfler, Air Doctor’s business development manager, Yegor Kurbachev, head of R&D, and Efrat Sagi Ofir, COO.
“We wanted to use our network for good amidst the pandemic,” Cohen Derfler said, “Why not share the resources?”
The comprehensive country-by-country guide includes general information and details on where to find medical help. Though not every country is able to offer assistance in English, Air Doctor can help the patient find and schedule a virtual video appointment with an English-speaking doctor.
While the global page is updated weekly, the company says it is thinking of stopping the updates within a few weeks as countries begin to open up.
Also last month, the company, which caters to individuals as well as doctors and insurance companies in B2B partnerships, announced it would offer its network to mobile operators to help them recover lost roaming revenue caused by the global halt of tourism and business travel. In a post-COVID-19 world, they said, the mobile industry will need to add more value-added service to encourage people to “roam” back into traveling.
“Mobile operators know exactly where their clients are traveling to, so they can very easily customize how their travelers use the service,” said Cohen-Derfler in a statement. “Before COVID-19, travelers generally didn’t think about getting sick when traveling, now, many will be preoccupied with this possibility as they leave quarantine.
“Mobile operators can enhance their customers’ peace of mind by ensuring that they have access to doctors no matter where they travel. Being sick or injured while traveling is frightening and stressful, even more so when you don’t know the culture or speak the language,” she added.
In February, Air Doctor was one of 40 startups selected to be part of the
Insurtech Hub Munich’s 2020 Innovation Programme, joining companies from Germany, Spain, Singapore, and the UK.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread through Israel in March, Air Doctor raised $7.8 million in a Series A funding round led by the insurtech startup studio Kamet Ventures, run by Parisian investment and asset management firm AXA Group. These were existing investors who had also led a $3.1 million seed round for the company in July 2018.
The investment was used to bolster Air Doctor’s medical network and R&D capabilities as well as support its international expansion.
Also leading the Series A was Phoenix, the Israeli insurance company that has a partnership with Air Doctor.
Connecting to doctors, individuals, and entities
While Air Doctor calls itself a “complementary” service that can be used by travelers with or without insurance, the company has a number of partnerships with insurance companies, hotels, and other entities.
Air Doctor’s partnership with Phoenix insurance company enables anyone with Phoenix travel insurance to use Air Doctor abroad with no out-of-pocket fees.
“As their first corporate client, we saw first-hand the impact that Air Doctor’s unique offering had on our business and on our customer satisfaction. We are proud to be backing Air Doctor in this next stage of their growth as they seek to transform the travel insurance market globally,” said Dudi Oz, head of travel insurance for Phoenix.
Cohen Derfler says at least 95 percent of Phoenix travel customers who have needed medical care while traveling has used their network. She also claims that Phoenix grew its revenue by 30 percent because of Air Doctor.
The company has a feature on its app that connects the patient to the healthcare provider through insurance immediately, allowing for quick payment and reimbursement. If not through the insurance company, the patient can connect on his/her/their own by adding a credit card.
Cohen Derfler explains that when this first began in May 2019, the first customers saw money back in their account within four to five days.
Air Doctor was founded after Yam Derfler, then a newly released Israeli soldier traveling the world got sick in Mexico and couldn’t find a doctor. He brought on his mother, Jenny, a former employee at Intel on board as well as R&D head Kurbachev, and COO Sagi Ofir.
While founded in 2016 to put travelers “in control of their health,”, the company only went live in the summer of 2018 after raising a seed round.
The country first began its network in Israel and Greece, before spreading to Germany, Spain, France, and others.
Today, the company is life in 42 countries and continues to grow. Air Doctor is also beginning to create a network in Southeast Asia, Cohen Derfler tells NoCamels, and building infrastructure for customers in Japan, the UK, and China.
“The infrastructure is still being built,” said Zimerman, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic did delay things, “We expect to see travelers heading out again by the end of the summer season.”
“Companies we are in contact with are very eager to build the infrastructure now so they will be ready for the day after since they expect most people will buy travel insurance moving forward,” he said.
Cohen Derfler tells NoCamels that doctors in the network are not just doctors that happen to be in certain areas. Air Doctor partners with them, she explains, making sure they are licensed, trusted, professional, and have had all their background checks.
“Doctors are from the community,” she says, “We market them for free. It’s a win-win for the doctor and the patient.”