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The online doctor: Healthcare in your hand

UAE start-up Health at Hand’s founder Charlie Barlow on how he links patients remotely with healthcare professionals in the Middle East

I was inspired to build Health at Hand when I found myself spending hours in doctor’s waiting rooms for common, minor, non-emergency conditions from coughs and sore throats to rashes. ~ Charlie Barlow

In an age where self-diagnosis and ensuing fear that you’re likely to die within minutes because “the internet said so,” it’s good to have a professional and qualified voice to reason your ailments through with you. And that’s precisely the MO of Health at Hand, a fully-licensed, DHA-regulated telehealth business.

Based in the UAE, and available as a free-to-download app on Google Play and the App Store, Health at Hand allows patients to conduct live video consultations with qualified doctors within minutes, with an aim of removing the doubts and worries commonly experienced with visiting the doctor, or self-diagnosing online.

Debonair caught up with Charlie Barlow, founder and owner of Health at Hand to find out what has made the telehealth business a success.
 

How long has it been since you started your company?

We set up Health at Hand as a registered company in 2016 after a full market research exercise where we interrogated every side of the business plan.

Initially incubated in the Google-backed tech hub, Astrolabs, in Dubai, we are now registered as a BVI company and have a fully owned subsidiary in Dubai’s DMCC Freezone with a DHA telehealth license, and another office in Karachi, Pakistan. This full company formation process took around two months after about a year of proprietary market sounding and due diligence.

I was inspired to build Health at Hand when I found myself spending hours in doctor’s waiting rooms for common, minor, non-emergency conditions from coughs and sore throats to rashes. ~ Charlie Barlow

Charlie Barlow, founder of Health at Hand


Where did the idea for your business come from?

As a busy father of three small children, I was inspired to build Health at Hand when I found myself spending hours in doctor’s waiting rooms for common, minor, non-emergency conditions from coughs and sore throats to rashes.

Given my history of investing in technology businesses, I have been exposed to a huge number of on-demand businesses and realised there was an opportunity for an on-demand solution in primary healthcare, a defensive sector. Telehealth has become commonplace in the US and UK but remains less prevalent in the GCC.

How did you finance your business?

My personal background was in investment banking and venture capital. With a well-researched and compelling investment proposition we managed to raise $1M to build our beta product. By spending this money wisely and attracting some brilliant talent into the business we were then able to successfully raise a Seed A funding ground of $3.1M in summer 2017. 

At which point did you have a clearer idea of how you would turn your passion into a business?

Throughout my career I have been a huge advocate of working in a business and sector that I am passionate about. I often discuss this idea with start-up founders, particularly in my role as a mentor for Google in the Middle East. By finding a viable solution to a real problem, Health at Hand is in a privileged position in that we can really make a difference to people’s everyday lives. Our desire to build something that can bring real and positive change is a driving force for myself, and an attribute we look for when recruiting.

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How difficult was the transition from full time employment to start up?

The biggest transition for me was when I left the corporate world and set up my own venture capital business, Rockfirst Capital, in 2012. Overnight, benefits you take for granted are immediately removed including the likes of personal health insurance and pension contributions.

What are your biggest challenges?

Nothing really prepares you for the day you go live. Healthcare is a highly regulated sector and, as such, there are a number of challenges in establishing a licensed entity. By working with the health authorities of the UAE through direct engagement and thought leadership, backed up by a proprietary white paper we commissioned with YouGov Mena, we were able to navigate these challenges. 

What are the advantages of being your own boss?

The opportunity to build our own entrepreneurial and inclusive culture at Health at Hand, while at the same time having a meaningful impact on both our clients’ and employees’ lives, is a great privilege.

“Nothing really prepares you for the day you go live.”

Charlie Barlow

What would your advice be to future entrepreneurs?

Make sure your idea is well researched: You need to know the problems that exist for all stakeholders, from every angle. Don’t listen to just one side of the story and don’t be swayed by stakeholders’ biases: you need a realistic overview of the landscape.

Who is one to watch on the start-up scene?

We love what Ver2 are trying to do in the Middle East and Africa particularly with regards to the sharing of medical knowledge and remote monitoring.

Brian De Francesco and his team are also hugely supportive of the wider telehealth scene and like Health at Hand, look to collaborate with likeminded companies across both thought-leadership and the implementation of technology within the sector.

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