Founder Spotlight: Jay Fajardo of MEDIFI, A Virtual Bridge in Democratizing Access to Health Care

By: Kri Cortez

Clinics and hospitals have seen a substantial decrease in the number of patients seeking face-to-face consultation during the pandemic, because of the fear of contacting Covid-19. However, alternative modes of health care have emerged with social distancing in mind, and to help mitigate the impact of the global health crisis. 

Can the digital fabric contribute to the problem at hand? This is where Jay Fajardo, the CEO of MEDIFI, came up with a groundbreaking platform. Democratizing health care through a B2C telehealth platform where patients connect to their doctors through secure meaningful medical consultations online- that's what MEDIFI is. Techshake spoke with Jay to learn more about Medifi and his take on telehealth in the new normal:

Can you give us a brief background of yourself?

I’ve always been a tech entrepreneur, ever since I learned how to code in the early eighties, and developing software for commercial sale while still in high school. Over the years, I’ve either founded or have been part of the founding team of various technology ventures, including one of the country’s pioneering digital news publication, Businessworld Online, a pan-asian Voice-over-IP network, and Airborne Access, which became the country’s largest wi-fi hotspot network founded in 2002, and acquired by SMART/PLDT in 2008.

In 2009, I founded Proudcloud, an agile development firm that built technology platforms and applications for the huge wave of Web 2.0 startups that emerged in the United States, Canada, and Australia. This was also the platform we used to reach out to the innovation community and bring together engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, business folk, investors, and media practitioners. Our idea was to form a collaborative platform we hoped would spur silicon valley type innovation from the interactions of these like minded people. Carrying the name Roofcamp, little did we know that this collection of innovators would later become the key stalwarts of the local startup scene. 

Collaborating closely with Christian Besler, Minette Navarette, and Dan Siason (the team that would later become Kickstart Ventures) in 2011, we organized the first three Startup Weekend’s in Manila, and eventually created an early-stage accelerator called Launchgarage. We all shared a vision of our own vibrant innovation ecosystem, and we all voluntarily poured our energy into jumpstarting the nascent startup community.

In 2014, I was approached by retail entrepreneur and pro-athlete Freddy Gonzalez, to build and launch a platform that would fill the gaps in Philippine healthcare access through online consultations. In 2015, the on-demand telehealth platform MEDIFI was publicly launched.

We've witnessed the rapid growth of health tech and access to health care this year, can you share with us a brief story of Medifi? How did you come up with the idea?

Freddy, my co-founder, who was also a professional football player playing for the Loyola Meralco Sparks, became susceptible to injuries from years of high-level play, particularly a MCL, an injury that isn’t easily treated locally. Because of this, Freddy sought out a sports doctor based in San Francisco. The need to travel to the United States from the Philippines for regular surgeries and consultations was obviously becoming very costly, both from a financial and convenience perspective. The possibility of foregoing some of the visits for online consultations from home became a compelling value proposition. That’s when MEDIFI was conceptualized and I joined him to help build the platform as its CTO.

Up until around 2019, we were working on a purely web-based beta version with some doctors and some patients regularly using MEDIFI. A few years into our initial launch, we had accumulated a wealth of learnings which we translate into a new version of MEDIFI, which we quietly launched in August 2019. It was a huge redesign and re-architecturing of our platform into a mobile app for patients called MEDIFI for Patients, and a web app for doctors called MEDIFI for Doctors. Being on the sidelines from MEDIFI for a year or so, I was asked by Freddy late that year to once more take an active role, this time as the CEO. Freddie had started a venture called Viyahe, which was quickly gaining a lot of traction. I agreed and became full-time CEO in January of 2019.

Little did we know that what started as rumours and news of a highly-infectious virus from Wuhan, would become a paradigm shifting pandemic, and that MEDIFI found itself in a space where it would play a significant role in the next few months.

How has the pandemic affected or shifted your business so far?

Things unexpectedly changed for a lot of us as when the quarantine was announced in March 15, 2019.  On that same day, the doctors we’d been working with during the MEDIFI beta phase over the years, started reaching out to us one-by-one, asking if MEDIFI was available for them to use. The quarantine meant that continuity of these doctors’ practices was placed in jeopardy, as mobility was restricted for everyone to promote social distancing and unnecessary exposure. Also, the doctors knew that the country’s healthcare infrastructure would soon be put under pressure, and online consultations on MEDIFI became a way to alleviate unnecessary visits to the clinics and hospitals. 

As the doctors shared MEDIFI with colleagues through their various networks, the volume of signups and consultations flooded in. From 25 doctors in March, we’ve grown to over 3,000 doctors, and from 300 plus patients, we’ve grown to over 35,000 patients. Because we consciously designed MEDIFI to have low-friction, low-touch signups for both patients and doctors, growing exponentially to these numbers was easy as users could easily on-board themselves. Being essentially a two-sided marketplace, we didn’t have to hire our own physicians, unlike legacy telehealth players that came before us.

This rapid growth became an engineering challenge for MEDIFI’s infrastructure in the early months from March. The high-volume of usage slowed down the user experience for our customers, and we had to scramble to re-engineer our back-end architecture on-the-fly. We didn’t plan to do a public launch until Q2 2019, and even that was supposed to be on a controlled beta phase. The pandemic pretty much thrust us into premature hi-scale service, and we had to adapt quickly.

Today, we’re taking advantage of new Amazon Web Services technologies to implement a much more robust and self-healing back-end that can bear the load demands of a now telehealth-aware consumer market. 

It is also important to note that the pandemic and quarantine changed the game in terms of awareness by both doctors and the general public. Overnight, regular consumers were talking about telehealth, while physicians, initially apprehensive about introducing unnecessary risk in their practice, realized the clar benefits of being able to consult with their patients online.

During this time of uncertainty, can you share how the MEDIFI team managed to continue working in light of the quarantine, social distancing, and limited mobility? 

In terms of our operations in the context of a lockdown, it wasn’t difficult to transition to working from home. Because our engineering teams used agile development methodologies and tools, it wasn’t difficult to continue as a fully remote workforce. For our non-engineering colleagues, we used the same agile tools, remote communications platforms and processes as the engineers.

In fact, we’ve discovered that we’re actually more predictive with our current set up as we no longer have to waste plenty of time wading through traffic coming to and from a physical workspace. We’ve also fully optimized our use of digital services for our routine tasks including online banking and payments, online couriers, and procurement of supplies through online marketplaces.

What is your outlook for health tech in the next few years?

Prior to the pandemic, it was very difficult to convince physicians to adopt online platforms for consulting with patients remotely. Healthcare practitioners are typically risk-averse, and they normally react with apprehension at the thought of introducing new and novel approaches into their practice.

With the strong influence of the pandemic on the positive adoption of telehealth platforms, doctors have been able to experience the benefits to their efficiency and ability to serve more patients without the limitations of distance and scalability. Patients, likewise, are now aware of telehealth’s advantages over physical clinic visits if not really crucial.

Because of this, we see a major shift in the way we trust and rely on new ways of accessing healthcare, as society becomes comfortable and dependent on a more digitized way of life. 

Please tell us about your plans and targets in 2021. Do you have plans to raise funds, as many other tech companies do?

The Philippines has a gap with regards to access to healthcare. According to studies, two-thirds of Filipinos will never get to see a doctor in their entire lifetime, and the estimated doctor-to-patient ratio can be as low as 1:33,000, particularly in rural areas. Meanwhile, it is said that 70% of visits to clinics, emergency rooms, and hospitals are actually avoidable. This makes a strong argument for telehealth as a way to vet medical cases online, reducing the load on an already overburdened healthcare system.

MEDIFI positions itself as a way to help solve these major challenges, with the vision of improving the overall healthcare experience for Filipinos though unfettered access to the medical services they need.

With this in goal in mind, it is now important for us to take advantage of telehealth’s recent mainstream awareness, and aggressively expand our reach to the rest of the market. This includes a rapid expansion within both the urban areas and the rest of the country.

Our goal is to be able to have 100,000 patients on the platform by the end of Q1, and 500,000 patients by the end of Q4. To fuel this growth, we have started raising venture funding to drive massive marketing efforts and the continued improvement of our platform’s service offerings.

Our users can look forward to new features for both MEDIFI for Patients and MEDIFI for Doctors in 2021, starting this month when MEDIFI users can request direct-to-home medicine delivery and home-based laboratory services through our third-party partners, all from within our mobile app.

To learn more about Medifi, you may visit their website here.