Entrepreneur Stories · Friday, May 12, 2017

Dialogue: A doctor one click away

Anna Chif's Story

Did you know you can access a doctor through your smartphone? Yes! This is the service offered by Dialogue, a Montreal virtual health services startup offering a range of health professionals at the tip of your fingers thanks to an app.

Around 30 companies, including law firm BCF and management and holding company Power Corporation of Canada, offer Dialogue’s services as employee benefits. More than 5,000 people thus have access to the startup through an app installed on their smartphones. If they wake up in the morning with a nasty cough or a rash on their arm, they need only launch Dialogue in order to text with a nurse who can answer their questions and, if necessary, put them in contact with a doctor via videoconferencing. “We are able to make a diagnosis in around 60% of cases,” assures co-founder Anna Chif. And if an in-person consultation is necessary, Dialogue recommends the patient to the right specialist.

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Anna is familiar with the experience of trying to talk directly to a doctor. At the end of 2015, the 28-year-old entrepreneur was taking care of her grandmother, who was in the terminal phase of cancer. “She stayed as long as she could at home and it wasn’t easy. I often had questions for the doctors, but they would tell me to go to the emergency room with her in order to get an answer!” Too often all it would have taken is a few minutes with a health professional to obtain the prescription or the information she needed.

So Anna did not hesitate when Cherif Habib, a Montreal entrepreneur she knew, approached her at the start of 2016 with the idea of starting a virtual health services business. Alexis Smirnov, who has more than 25 years of experience in technology, joined them to help brainstorm, and a few weeks later the four co-founded Dialogue.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s been barely a year,” states Anna after reflecting on their progress. “Today we have 20 full-time employees and we offer our services in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia.” Alberta and British Columbia will soon follow. At this pace, the application will soon be available across Canada.

This breakneck pace was made possible thanks to Diagram, a business platform for early stage companies specializing in health, finance and insurance. The platform not only provided the capital needed to launch Dialogue, but it also led a round of investment to the tune of $4 million for the startup, with BDC Capital and Hacking Health Accelerator also participating.

Inventing the rules

Because the four entrepreneurs started their business in the healthcare domain without any prior experience, convincing professionals to join their project was not always easy.

“If I had known how complex it would be, I’m not sure I would have done it,” says the entrepreneur, laughing. “But we still went for it and recruited some of the best doctors in the country.”

– Anna Chif

These doctors were especially attracted by the potential of virtual health services, which is largely underexploited. “For a dermatologist or a psychiatrist, a consultation by videoconferencing is often just as effective as a consultation in person.” Even surgeons could find it useful, since a large part of their schedule is filled with patient follow-ups.

A technology startup in the health sector, no matter how innovative it may be, still needs to play by the rules. The Dialogue team is careful about following procedures to the letter, which is a significant challenge since these vary from one province to another. And because this is a new technology, sometimes there are no procedures to refer to! “In these cases, we apply very rigorous standards to our practices,” explains Anna. “We want to be the thought leader in virtual health services in Canada. Our objective is to support the existing health system, not to cause problems.”

Dialogue in numbers

  • 5: Number of provinces in which Dialogue is offered (or will be soon)
  • 20: Number of employees
  • $4 million: Amount amassed in financing
  • 40: Number of health professionals available via Dialogue

Want to learn more?

Visit the Dialogue website

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