By Deena Douara
Their name says it all: iamsick.ca. Everyone has been there at some point. Stomach flu over a long weekend; in need of a doctor near a new home; Fever at 2 a.m.; Ill grandparents who don’t understand English well.
What Ryan Doherty recognized was that for the inconveniences (and worse) that afflict all Torontonians, a convenient health-service resource was lacking.
So he set out to build that resource himself – “e-health 2.0.” One comprehensive app to tell patients what clinics and pharmacies are open nearby and what their hours are (including holiday schedules), to include language information for healthcare providers, to discover which clinics are accepting new patients and to help them book appointments online.
iamsick.ca’s latest offering is the virtual waiting room for participating clinics, allowing patients to spend their time effectively and physicians to have fewer no-shows.
To maximize accessibility, the website is translated into English, French, Chinese, Spanish and most recently, Arabic, acknowledging the influx of Syrian refugees who struggle to find the care they need for their families.
The project started small. In 2012, Doherty was a PhD candidate studying medical biophysics and a University of Toronto campus don (a support to students in residence) who observed his share of illnesses. His initial ambition was to have impact through drug discovery, but he also gravitated toward entrepreneurship and began attending meetups and workshops at MaRS, where he met his co-founders (who’ve since departed). They gave themselves a two-month timeline to develop a product that students could use to help them figure out wait times at emergency rooms once clinics were closed.
As he investigated he found that there were greater issues to address and information gaps not just for students but also for residents across the GTA, across Ontario, and in fact, across Canada.
“We realized within the first few months as we were talking to people there was a need across the board,” he says. “What we’re building can help everyone, from patient to healthcare professional to policymaker.”
On his decision to choose the path of entrepreneurship, he says it was a matter of greatest immediate impact.
“You see the rewards every day … the benefits are realized right away.”
He gives an example of patients telling him they waited for months or over a year even to be matched with a family doctor through official channels. “Then they go on iamsick and in two clicks they can see a map with nearby family doctors accepting patients, and they can go see them in a matter of weeks.”
“If I’d pursued the path of research, timelines for drug discovery are decades,” he says. “The other benefit of a startup is you can be agile and adjust, explore new opportunities and test creative processes.”
He adds, however, that his scientific background does influence his focus on quality, updated data, and he was even at the forefront of the Open Data movement in Toronto, encouraging greater government transparency around data.
“I’m driven by passion of the vision, and trying to seeing that through.
The ultimate vision for iamsick is to empower consumers and providers at the interface of the patient and the healthcare system.”
Doherty plans to take the free app nation-wide and into the north to help both rural and urban Canadians get better access to care.
Doherty says Toronto has been a “great ecosystem for innovation.” iamsick.ca has received support and mentorship through the University of Toronto Impact Centre incubator and its faculty, as well as through MaRS. Doherty says where he received the most guidance was in understanding the basics of starting a business as well as structuring financing and sales in such a way as to make it sustainable.
Being located near such a high concentration of professors, world-class medical facilities and “forward-thinking people” has also been incredibly advantageous.
“It’s not just organizations but also individuals. There are a lot of meetup events, and community-driven events that help refine what we do and help us meet like-minded people.”