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The Globe and Mail

Startup plays matchmaker between health care providers and patients

Asha Soares is the founder of Kabuk, a startup that allows patients to search through a database of relevant health care providers based on criteria as common as location and as specific as language spoken and conditions treated within a sub-specialty.

Between the interminable wait times, complicated referral policies and lack of specialist information, navigating the health care system can trigger the kind of stress that causes Canadians to seek out a doctor in the first place.

The frustration is mutual. Medical professionals waste countless hours dealing with the fallout from missed appointments and redundant questions instead of optimizing their time toward patient care.

And while private health care practices have started phasing in online management systems, the results are inconsistent and, in many cases, the features are limited.

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Asha Soares can tell you all about these limitations. The University of Waterloo graduate discovered them firsthand several years ago while trying to get her sick grandmother the right care.

"After my grandmother got out of the hospital, we found it difficult to find the multitude of health care providers we needed to see to her needs. We would get names and numbers and there was no way of finding out who those people were, what their backgrounds were, or others' experiences," she says.

Venting over coffee with her friend, Lucas Litwiniuk, she learned the Toronto-based commodities analyst had faced similar problems.

"Lucas is an immigrant to Canada. He's been in several different cities and every time he's come to a new city he's had the same questions: How do I find the right health care provider for my needs? How do I get my team of health care professionals on board?"

These are not just imaginary concerns. A 2013 Ipsos Reid survey noted 90 per cent of participants would book an appointment online instead of picking up the phone if the option were available.

On the other end of the line, medical offices that use online scheduling reduced the booking time of a single appointment by 80 per cent, a time-cost benefit that could save individual practices several hundred dollars per week.

Using these statistics as a guide, the pair teamed up with Babak Bagherizadeh, one of the early developers of Kobo, and channelled their frustration into Kabuk, a multidisciplinary online system that seeks to serve as a "matchmaker" between health care providers and patients.

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"We want people to think of us when a negative trigger happens in life," Mr. Litwiniuk says, who adds that on a more positive note, they also want to reduce wait times and increase accessibility to health care for all Canadians.

Through Kabuk, patients can search through a database of relevant health care providers based on criteria as common as location and as specific as language spoken and conditions treated within a sub-specialty.

"I want the patient to come to the site when they're looking for a dermatologist who can actually treat that particular problem the patient has. We list treatments and illness specialties in the doctor profile and we'll eventually make it searchable to the full extent so the right doctor will be delivered to the right patient," Mr. Litwiniuk says, noting the credentials of health care providers who sign up for the site are carefully vetted before they're approved for patient access.

"Gender is sometimes an issue for patients," Ms. Soares adds, so if someone is looking for a female doctor who speaks Mandarin or Arabic, Kabuk will also pinpoint the right criteria.

Beyond serving as a comprehensive search engine with doctor bios, office photos, and practice details, the team hopes their real-time scheduling integration system will offer some preemptive relief.

If a patient loses a filling in the middle of the night, for example, it can be hard to get back to sleep without knowing when the problem will be fixed.

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"[Patients] can look at the list of profiles, use that information to make a more informed decision, and book the first availability in real-time so when they go to bed, they know tomorrow morning they're going to see a dentist who will take care of their problem," Ms. Soares adds.

Doctors using the system will also know their empty slots will be filled more efficiently and administrators can use the time they spent co-ordinating wait lists to tend to more pressing in-office tasks.

Since their site launched nationwide in Sept. 2014, Kabuk has mainly attracted privatized health care providers, like chiropractors, nutritionists, and physiotherapists. But the team is working on an additional site component that would allow general practitioners to submit e-referrals and thus widen the system's pool of primary doctors and specialists.

Eventually, there will also be a function that allows Kabuk patients to leave a review of their experience on the practitioner's page, but doctors can opt out of the feature.

"During our sales process we learned doctors hate RateMD,an anonymous rating system for health care professionals," laughs Ms. Soares. "So before we do anything like that we need to fully understand how they would like to be marketed. It's really important to get it right."

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