The ATM of health care

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The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2019 has concluded its search for the country’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc. with the participation of co-presenters Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Philippine Stock Exchange. In the next few weeks, BusinessWorld will feature each of the finalists for the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2019.

Esther Wileen Go
MediLink Network Inc.

AS president and chief executive officer of MediLink Network, Inc., Esther Wileen Go has a mission – to enhance the quality of health care through technology and automation.

Even though her current industry was one that she never envisioned herself in, she acknowledges that the providential alignment of the various factors in her life brought her to where she is today.

As a child, Ms. Go loved technology. She grew up working during summer holidays assembling desktop units, key-punching and programming at her father’s company, Equitable Computer Services.

After earning her MBA in the United States, she worked in an American consultancy firm. Despite her preference to work in financial services, the company assigned her to health care operations. Accepting this, she focused on learning everything she could about the industry. Eventually, she joined a multinational financial services company, with every intent of returning to the Philippines to help run the family bank.

However, by the time she came home in 2004, the bank was already operating under a different owner. Not entirely knowing what to do, Ms. Go looked at the remaining companies in the family’s portfolio.

One of the companies, MediLink, was a technology outfit with just six people. Her father had set up the company because of his own frustrations with how long it took to authorize a health transaction. MediLink offered automated eligibility verification service, where a person’s health care coverage could be quickly approved or declined through an electronic terminal. At that time, this was seen as a faster and more practical way than the traditional practice of having to call one’s Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or insurance company to get authorization for a medical treatment.

MediLink started in 1999 as a joint venture between F. E. Zuellig and the Equitable Computer services, but all its start-up money had been depleted by the time Ms. Go came onboard. Cash flow was precarious such that making payroll was always a front-and-center concern. As a small operation, MediLink also didn’t have much invested in assets. The company repurposed old credit card terminals that were considered obsolete by the banking industry and deployed them to hospitals to serve as health care eligibility verification terminals.

Ms. Go recalls how they had to find ways to keep their business afloat, such as when their already-old terminals broke down. MediLink disassembled the terminals and consolidated working parts into “Frankenstein” terminals, then redeployed them to the field.

Unfazed by the challenges, however, Ms. Go saw meaning and purpose in improving the health care experience. She set out to slowly build and transform MediLink’s infrastructure in a way that would let them scale their services and grow the company. Since banks financing wasn’t an option, their funding was purely organic.

To make the business more viable, Ms. Go leveraged Equitable Card’s old credit card platform to create a health care payment card. By transforming every eligibility card into a payment card as well, they were able to increase their revenue streams.

“We lost the family bank, but we made lemonade out of lemons with the card platform,” she reminisces. It also helped that Ms. Go’s deep history and love for technology allowed her to discover innovative solutions as MediLink learned more about the pain points of the health sector. “Many people like technology. I just think I’m able to bridge the coolness of technology with practical, revenue-generating activity,” Ms. Go muses.

This aptitude for finding creative technological solutions led her to develop some of MediLink’s innovative services for the company to survive and thrive. When their customer service center was overwhelmed by the volume of transactions after branching into payments, they created self-service portals that allowed doctors, hospitals and clinics to self-serve their authorization requests without having to make a call.

Another innovation stemmed from their need to aggregate insights from all their transactions. This led to a visualization tool that allow them to identify fraud patterns. MediLink eventually developed machine learning models to identify those patterns for them and automate fraud detection. They also employed robotics process automation to further automate their business processes.

A far cry from cannibalizing old terminals, MediLink is now an industry leader in providing data mining and machine learning solutions. It has been recognized by several awarding bodies, including the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards (2018) for corporate excellence, AI Global Media (2018) for Best Health care Technology Solutions Provider, and the International Innovation Awards (2017).

MediLink understands that the value of the health ecosystem increases with the number of transactions it processes. They hope to continue to provide value-added services to this network and contribute to improving public health.

As part of their efforts, MediLink developed utilities to help members stay aware of their health status, receive timely reminders, and have easy access to medical professionals. They integrated with mobile health apps to encourage their members to exercise, hydrate, and comply with medicine prescriptions, with functions that allow patients to consult a doctor via telemedicine and maintain an electronic health record.

Another project in the works is the Medibot, a friendly-looking terminal that will provide a personal touch to self-service authorization requests. Medibot has a motion-detector that lets it sense potential users nearby and greet them to encourage use of its touchscreen buttons. The chat feature uses artificial intelligence to understand questions from users that are posed in plain English.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is improve self-service for our patients. Our aspiration is to do for health care what the ATM did for banking.”

Ms. Go believes that one goes through the entrepreneurial experience to find a fit between what the world wants and what one can do well. She relates how, for herself, she strongly feels that it couldn’t have been mere coincidence that her entrepreneurial journey seamlessly brought together her passion for technology, her upbringing, the limited resources she had when she took over MediLink, and even her early exposure to the health care space. “I’m where I was intended to be,” she affirms.

Technology is in the DNA of MediLink, so to speak, and Ms. Go acknowledges that they cannot scale without it. To that end, she advises aspiring entrepreneurs to, “Start small, get it right, then scale fast. If it’s wrong, and you have a negative margin, imagine if you scaled that negative margin!”

The official airline of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2019 is Philippine Airlines. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel.

The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2019 will be announced on 15 October 2019 in an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2020. The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young.





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