How to find the right doctor in time while traveling

Air Doctor

Digitalisation & Technology, 06.05.2022

Anyone who feels sick abroad and needs medical help can easily run into problems. This is where the start-up Air Doctor wants to put people in touch with the right doctors just in time. In this interview Jenny Cohen Derfler, founder and CEO of Air Doctor, explains how this works.

Jenny Cohen Derfler, founder and CEO of Air Doctor

Ms. Cohen Derfler, have you personally ever had a medical emergency while traveling? And which kind of emergency has it been?

Yes, many times, because I travel a lot, and it’s bound to happen every once in a while. One time I was in North Carolina – when I was still working for Intel – and I was too sick to leave the hotel room or call anyone; and eventually ended up calling the reception, and they took me in a wheelchair to a clinic, but it was awful feeling alone and not knowing what to do or who to contact.

Another time, I was traveling in Mexico with my children. My son had a very high fever, so we went to a doctor that the hotel referred us to, and the diagnosis and the prescribed meds were completely wrong. Naturally, this was a very stressful experience for us as parents, with young kids in a foreign country.

Last, happened in Budapest, Hungary. I needed to find a gastroenterologist because my traveling companion had a stomach disease. All the information I could find online was telling me that if you need medical assistance in English, as a tourist, its best to go to a hospital because there aren’t many English-speaking doctors and that we need to be prepared to wait for many hours – and that’s what we ended up doing. The hotel only could offer a GP and we needed a specialist. Frustrating.

All in all, these experiences just convinced me more that Air Doctor is a needed solution, and so obvious and simple that it is surprising none created it before us. 

“Falling ill abroad can be stressful, especially if you don’t speak the local language or know how the local healthcare system works.”

Jenny Cohen Derfler,  founder and CEO of Air Doctor

Air Doctor is created to make it easier to find a doctor in time in the event of medical emergencies while traveling. How does that work particularly?

Falling ill abroad can be stressful, especially if you don’t speak the local language or know how the local healthcare system works. Most travelers go to a hospital when all they need is a simple outpatient appointment with a GP or dentist. This is where Air Doctor comes in. Air Doctor provides travelers peace of mind in the event that they fall ill abroad, they can seamlessly access the medical care they need – from someone who speaks their language and is free at the point of use.

All of the doctors on the platform have gone through Air Doctor’s thorough, multi-stage vetting process and are monitored on an ongoing basis. And unlike telemedicine apps, travelers might already be using in their home country, local doctors can provide locally valid prescriptions - through virtual or in-person consultations, meaning travelers can access medication immediately.

As a customer, what do I have to do specifically?

Just download the app. Within the Air Doctor app, you can search for suitable local doctors around you, with the ability to filter according to languages spoken, medical specialty, proximity, appointment availability, and other relevant factors. The app provides recommendations from within our network of doctors, and appointments can be scheduled in just a couple of taps, within not more than 45 minutes. Even if you are in your home country and a friend or relative is sick alone abroad, you can send them a doctor, many times to their residence. 

You can choose from both online or in-person consultations. Online consultations like telemedicine are available 24/7. In-person consultations are available in line with the individual doctor working hours and operating practices, including hotel or home visits and out-of-hours consultations when the doctor provides them.

How did you set up the service?

Doctors are sourced in a number of ways, including via recommendations from local embassies, insurance companies, existing doctors in the Air Doctor network, as well as through relationships with large private clinics, and a network of recruitment scouts on the ground in each country. Doctors are then interviewed, screened, and vetted to verify their medical qualifications and all the other information required for their profile on the Air Doctor platform. The process of ongoing monitoring of doctors on the platform includes evaluation of customer reviews, analysis of invoices, annual review of qualifications and documents, and unscheduled visits by the Air Doctor team.

And how large is your network?

The Air Doctor doctors network is growing all the time, but Air Doctor currently has more than 20,000 doctors on its platform, spanning 74 countries worldwide and includes GPs, pediatricians, dentists, gynecologists, and orthopedic as a minimum and in many locations much more specialities.

Air Doctor has doctors across 74 countries around the world, including some of the most popular travelers destinations.

Jenny Cohen Derfler,  founder and CEO of Air Doctor

Can you name some specific countries and give some examples how it works at spot?

Air Doctor has doctors across 74 countries around the world, including some of the most popular travelers destinations, like US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, China, Japan, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Thailand, Argentina, Mexico, Nepal, etc. The process works the same, a traveler goes into the app, searches for a doctor nearby according to their specifications, and sets up a consultation at their earliest convenience.

It is important to explain that the control is in the customer's hands. You can choose the doctor from several options, the language, see the qualifications and degrees, reviews from other people and even pictures of the clinic. You are not depending on calling someone to approve, you don’t need to pay if your insurer works with Air Doctor and there is no need to claim for reimbursement. 

What were the main changes for Air Doctor since the beginning of the pandemic?

Obviously, our biggest challenge was launching a service geared towards travelers in a time where travel was essentially non-existent. But we quickly shifted our focus and started to expand our network of doctors and business partners. We also understood that none will travel anymore without having a known medical solution in case something happens abroad. People want to feel safe, especially after the pandemic.

We also developed our telemedicine service during the pandemic. We understand that people are afraid to go to medical facilities and prefer, for minor issues, to have a video call with a doctor.  We activated our already existing network, as trained telemedicine doctors, and are able to provide this service in 15 languages, 7X24 and with the ability to locally prescribe in the majority of the cases.  

Air Doctor’s outpatient network enables insurers to direct travelers to more appropriate, convenient, and immediate healthcare, reducing their costs.

Jenny Cohen Derfler, founder and CEO of Air Doctor

You are working together with insurance companies. What are the main advantages of this cooperation?

Most insurers don’t have access to an outpatient care network and instead direct travelers to hospitals if they fall ill abroad. As we mentioned, this won’t be the right course of action for most travelers, and results in a frustrating experience for them and incurs unnecessary costs for the insurer. Air Doctor’s outpatient network enables insurers to direct travelers to more appropriate, convenient, and immediate healthcare, reducing their costs. The traveler’s experience is further improved by being able to choose which clinic they attend. Moreover, the customer journey improves significantly when you don’t need to spend hours in emergency rooms, stay for long observations and ruin your and your family vacation.

By directing travelers to local private clinics when they fall ill abroad, instead of more expensive emergency care, claims costs are reduced by up to 30 percent. Air Doctor is also opening up a new revenue stream for the doctors on its platform.

What are the concrete advantages for the customer?

Customers get seamless access to medical care while abroad from vetted medical professionals through a fully digital journey, and if their insurer is partnered with us, they also experience a cashless customer journey – which just sweetens the deal.

How do you think Air Doctor will develop in the forthcoming years? What kind of development opportunities do you see?

Air Doctor is already a global startup, but we’d like to see our network expand into other countries which we have yet to expand such as Africa. And we’d like to be able to partner with more insurers so that their customers can also access this service and have assistance when they need it most.

You offer online medical assistance to refugees from Ukraine. How does that work?

Yes, we decided to launch this after one of our staff members – whose family is in Ukraine – needed medical assistance for her father. We decided to offer telemedicine in Ukrainian and cover the consultation cost. Eventually, many doctors started to volunteer their efforts; and now we’ve teamed up with the Zurich group who will cover the medication costs.

All that Ukrainians need to do is Whatsapp this number: +972541465157 – and leave their name, the reason for seeking medical advice, contact details, and preferred language. Then we find a doctor that is available, who then reaches out to them for a video call.

Interview: Benjamin Esche

More informationm on Air Doctor

ERGO Reiseversicherung also started cooperating with Air Doctor in March. Learn more:

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