After completing his traditional medicine studies last year, Nguyen Viet Anh, 25, co-founded Docosan, a platform for doctors practicing traditional and Western medicine that maintains a secure database of patient health records. The website, which is currently in beta, is connecting doctors and patients in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

The doctor will flirt with you now

I come from a family of doctors. I really want to solve the problem of all doctors in Vietnam, which is finding new patients. And on the patient side, when you want to see a doctor, you can’t know which is best for you. 

When I was young, my parents would ask around a lot for recommendations of who to see, and people would give five doctors to choose from, but each would have an advantage and a disadvantage, so it’s just word of mouth. There are over 50,000 private health clinics and 75,000 doctors in Vietnam, so the choice can be overwhelming. 

Our goal is to change the behavior of people and how they access health care, while also having their health data available wherever they go. Right now, health care data in Vietnam is extremely fractured. Normally a clinic will use software to store patient data, but only at that clinic, and some places still use pen and paper.

I was doing a clinical rotation in Da Nang, and a colleague asked for one of his patient’s phone numbers to follow up on Zalo [a popular local Vietnamese messaging app] about her treatment. The patient misinterpreted this and thought he was flirting with her. I knew we had to build Docosan when I heard that. 

Gaining trust

I’ve had serious doubts along the way. For example, when doctors tried our demo and said they would never use it. Or when patients saw a prototype and said the same thing. We’ve gotten resistance to digitization from some doctors, especially older ones who have assistants who manage their records. 

Some people are also skeptical of our data protection, which we guarantee is up to US standards. Gaining the trust of doctors can be easy, but it’s much harder to convince patients. 

The first thing I learned was that we always need to have doctors on the team. Right now, it’s just me, but we’ll have more, and that way, we understand the needs of both doctors and patients. 

At first, we were bootstrapping, and most of us on the six-person team are still taking major salary cuts, or no salary at all, though thankfully we found an investor very early on, so we have a comfortable runway.

Lucky for us, when it came to building the app, Vietnam has excellent tech talent. We were able to quickly attract developers, and their code is going to save lives. We built a lot of early versions and trashed them. We release a basic feature, see how users interact with it, and then decide if it can stay. We’re constantly working to improve the product.

No longer traditional vs. Western medicine

The coronavirus outbreak has forced us to rethink our plans. We initially didn’t offer telemedicine to new patients, as I thought doctors need to consult with someone in person first before they can diagnose anything, but since people couldn’t visit clinics, we decided to change that and added a video appointment option. 

Many of the larger health tech companies in Southeast Asia focus solely on telemedicine and drug delivery, while trying to replace the traditional role of doctors with technology. But people want real, live doctors; the issue is that it’s hard to tell which ones are good or not. 

Given my background in traditional medicine, I also want to place special emphasis on that, which also presents challenges. Many traditional treatments focus on acupuncture and various types of herbal remedies. Most practitioners and patients in this field are older, so it’s rare for someone young like me to be interested in it. Through Docosan, traditional medicine doctors will be on the same platform as doctors trained in Western medicine, and I hope this gives it more exposure.