The secret to employees’ health: Start a Dialogue
Most companies offer health insurance as a part of their overall benefits package. But how beneficial is it really? Employees still have to go through a huge hassle to make doctor’s appointments, take time off work to attend, and may end up spending hours at the hospital.
This situation is also complicated from the company’s perspective. When employees aren’t at work due to illness, the business suffers from a lack of productivity and can lose a lot of money.
But hey, we live in the digital world! What about the booming Healthtech industry? They say that many diseases can be prevented and treated virtually. One of our healthtech clients that recently visited our software development center seems to have proof.
We spoke with Alexis Smirnov, Co-Founder and CTO of Dialogue Technologies, a Canadian based telehealth company, about their solution and why they think the future of healthcare is virtual.
So here you are in Minsk. Is this your first time here?
Yes, this is my first visit to Minsk and I find this city really splendid! I grew up in Moscow and visiting Minsk brought the memories of my home town.
The iTechArt team started working on the Dialogue project in April 2018. Now it’s the end of August and you’re visiting us for the first time. What brought you here?
Well, frankly speaking, it was just a good opportunity. We’re expanding Dialogue in Germany and I visited our Berlin office and used this opportunity to spend a few days in Minsk.
Recently at iTechArt we conducted research on the current state of startups. One of the questions we were analyzing was what types of startups get more funding. HealthTech was #1. Where there is big money, there is bigger competition. Was it hard to raise Series B?
Fundraising process isn’t easy, however, the strength of the business, an amazing team and the bold vision helped us raise a Series B of $40M CAD. The round was led by CDPQ, one of the biggest financial institutions in the world. We were also happy to have our existing investors participate in Series B, a sign of continued support.
How was this telemedicine solution born? Who is your target audience?
Telemedicine is not a new concept. But three years ago in Canada when we launched our first telemedicine service, the market was almost non-existent.
It took us four months to build our MVP product. The first paid customer came in just 2 weeks after the launch. The early reaction from the market showed a strong interest. It also was the right step to launch in Quebec, where wait times for medical services longer compared to the rest of the Canadian provinces.
From Dialog’s launch, we proceeded with B2B as our target. Our friends in Montreal and other startups were among our first clients and at that time we put it clear: “You can buy another toy for your office - be it a new ping-pong table or PS - but if you really want to contribute to employees’ health, offer them Dialogue.”
What are your biggest challenges?
It’s a real challenge to build a new product...
And not to sink in the Blue Ocean?
Yes, and it’s not enough for our technology to have a modern design, and high quality. It also should comply with laws and existing healthcare regulations. We work with sensitive medical data and with people’s health - it imposes great responsibility. Sometimes we even deal with life-or-death situations and by the way, there were cases when our medical team saved lives.
When visiting a doctor, we know what laws apply here, what rights we have. How do you handle the situation in the case of telemedicine?
In Canada, we have a strong regulatory framework that covers the services we provide. But we understand that we are doing something new and people may have questions.
As medicine is based on trusting the specialist, from the very beginning we decided to create an A-class medical team. Healthcare practitioners that work for Dialogue are carefully selected and we’re very proud that our Care Team includes the best professionals throughout Canada.
You said that trust in telemedicine is important. I guess the same principle applies to a software development partner. What competencies were you looking for? Why did you come to iTechArt?
A few times we tried building entire projects by external contractors, but it just did not work out. So after that, we clearly realized that we needed a partner who could seamlessly integrate into our team. iTechArt offered that and also gave us an opportunity to orchestrate the whole recruitment process.
Meet the heroes of our story - Dialogue and iTechArt teams
Was it difficult to onboard iTechArt’s engineers?
Every member of the Dialogue a rigorous interview process. Technical skills of iTechArt engineers are world-class, so they quickly became productive members of our engineering team. We found that communication skills and language proficiency are very important to the way we work. Accordingly, we try to select people who would fit our intensely-collaborative team. This way, we can be a hundred percent sure we assembled a great team.
What is the org structure of your team?
Dialogue currently comprises five scrum teams in Montreal, and four of them have Minsk-based members. And by the way, there are some teams that have more people in Minsk than in Montreal. So, we are considering assigning a lead engineer here in order to facilitate the process.
Wow, that’s a truly complex integration...
Yes, and it’s important to note that every single person is integral to our success. They may have a different location, but they share the same goal, after all! There is no special treatment. Everyone is equal and this inevitably raises the bar for all our team members. That’s how we can set ambitious objectives.
Do these objectives include team scale up?
Sure. The market reality and the speed of our business require us to move fast. As our product grows, we need to grow our team fast and at scale. So, we’re going to look closer at the hiring landscape both in Montreal and Minsk.
Most of our US-based startup clients admit that hiring an engineer locally takes from 4 to 6 months and this might potentially doom the product. Is the situation in Canada different?
It’s basically the same. Finding talented developers is a challenge everywhere and a market like Montreal is no exception.
Assuming your rather complex team structure and such “natural” challenges as time zones difference, was it difficult to synchronize the development process?
Yes, it is always more difficult than having people in the same place. However, we adjust to each other. People start the working day later, or stay a bit later - this all helps. Of course, there is overhead, but we perfectly understand it when we start a certain project. We find that all the benefits we have outweighed the negatives.
What technologies does the iTechArt team cover?
The web apps are built with React, we’re building a native Android app and our iOS application is based on React Native. The technical stack for the backend is Python with microservices architecture and AWS. iTechArt also helps with automating infrastructure on AWS.
Are you planning to utilize any buzzing technologies?
AI with blockchain? [laughs]
Oh yes, the magic formula!
In all seriousness, we see many opportunities in applying AI and this is an area we invest a lot into it. Dialogue already automates parts of the patient-doctor communication, and particularly with chatbots using Natural Language Processing. And we clearly observe the results when we look at the business performance. The automation allows us to provide services to more people while improving the patient experience by making it faster, safer and easier. Our AI systems don’t replace humans but work in concert with medical professionals, using a safer approach known as “human in the loop”.
As for the geographic expansion, are you strategizing to enter new markets apart from Germany?
We deeply believe that there are no geographical boundaries to health - and everyone should have access to high-quality medical care. This is the purpose of Dialogue: to improve humanity’s health and wellbeing by removing barriers to great healthcare. So, Germany is certainly not the end of our geographical expansion. How will we expand? Every country is different. In Canada, we kicked off in one province then we covered the whole country 24 hours 7 days a week. We’re going to apply a methodical approach that makes sense for a given country.
Would you like to come back here?
Absolutely! We’re thinking about how we can make our folks see each other more often. Such meetings are extremely helpful. A little far from Canada of course [smiles], but again, it is worth it.
A word from the iTechArt team
From a technical standpoint, what is so interesting about the Dialogue project?
Dialogue uses a modern tech stack: microservices, working in serverless mode, sophisticated Kubernetes-based infrastructure, “trendy” UI and, of course, mobile apps. Data protection and security, along with multi-region deployment are all industry-specific challenges.
What is the team feedback?
The team really likes this project as it involves such perks as technical challenges, startup environment, and technically strong fellow team members. Moreover, as CTO highlights, they treat iTechArt’s engineers the same as their onsite team.
Also, I’d’ rather not use such big words but the team is really proud to work on a project that is making the world a healthier place. Some businesses allow rich people to become even richer, while Dialogue helps make medicine more accessible and affordable for everyone.
You’ve been managing engineering teams for years. How is the Dialogue project different?
As I mentioned before, we are 100% on the same page with the Dialogue team. Our engineers truly care about the project, they view it as their brainchild. This is the sort of dedication our clients seek in their software development partners.
For this project, we recommended take-charge types of engineers that are always ready to dive into the matter with a fine-tooth comb.
As Alexis always emphasizes, there are no boundaries to health. We definitely believe in this and also believe that there are no boundaries to talent. We are thankful to be a part of this game-changing cross-continental team that is building the future of health-tech.
Image credit: freepik.com