Read the Conversation

EF: How did Conexa begin, how has it evolved, and what are your priorities today?

GW: Conexa came from the need to change the healthcare sector. In Brazil, less than 25 percent of the population has a health insurance plan, as most people rely on the public health system SUS. However, Brazil’s public health presents many gaps in investment and professional experience, so we asked ourselves: “How can we change access to better healthcare?”.
Additionally, we observed that even patients with health plans were not satisfied with their experience, so we also decided to focus on this angle.

When I worked as a doctor in the ER, more than 90 percent of the patients I met did not need to be there. The overcrowding of the yards happened because, in Brazil, waiting times for appointments are long, and specialist opinions are difficult to get. With on-demand care, hospitals provided an option to solve health problems on the same day, but it came with elevated costs compared to a consultation in primary care. At Conexa, we were convinced that there should be a cheaper answer to the demand that focused on prevention and reduced new hospital admissions. Patients need low-complexity solutions, and digitalizing the consumption of health can not only improve access but also provide an improved experience. This was the idea with which we started six years ago.

One year before the pandemic, we were delivering solutions in virtual vision care, specialty care, and mental health, and more than 150,000 patients were using our platform.
During COVID, we had over 200,000 consultations per month. Today, we cover over 20 million patients, counting more than 500,000 consultations per month.  
These numbers show our massive growth in just a few years. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, low access to physicians was a problem. Patients were wary of going to see their doctors, and it was difficult to move around during the lockdown. Additionally, the demand for mental health providers grew as deaths and isolation were triggering mental illness among the population. This situation led us to merge with a mental healthcare provider, extending our experience in the field and allowing us to solve a broader range of mental conditions.

Our latest expansion wave happened last year with a stronger focus on access to specialty care. Brazil is a continental country and cannot afford specialists in every city and state. Together with public institutions, companies, payers, and health insurers, the health sector is looking for solutions to improve the health situation in the country.  

At Conexa, we contribute to providing better access and solving efficiency issues, costs, and clinical outcomes. Thanks to our data and analytics, we can provide answers and are now involved in stopping waste and fraud at the primary care level. Many problems can be solved through a digital approach. With this idea, we have raised more than 300 million reais with GA and Goldman Sachs to fund these solutions.

EF: What is the state of digital adoption in the country, and what challenges are you still facing when implementing Telehealth?

GW: In Brazil, more than 75 percent of the population has access to the Internet. With almost every Brazilian owning a smartphone, the issue of digital adoption will resolve itself in the next ten years.

We have made a lot of improvements when it comes to data security, and we are investing significant amounts to ensure the accurate protection of our healthcare data points.

The adoption of digital health solutions will keep advancing in the next years. New patients starting a consultation on our platform return to this format thanks to a good experience. Our Net Promoter Scare lies above 90, and even though we only focus on low-complexity diseases, these account for around 70 to 80 percent of the population’s health problems.

Last year, Brazil counted about 250 million in-person care consultations within the public and private sectors; we had 20 million consultations in digital space. Looking at this number, we are getting about 5 to 10 percent of the entire consultation market.

EF: How are you forming strategic partnerships to build a more sustainable health structure using the field of digital health?

GW: When establishing partnerships, we aim to connect with patients who can benefit from digital health solutions. Often, these patients resort to hospitals because they lack access to alternative options. With digital health, we can shift the consumption of high-complexity systems to simpler ones, thus addressing waste and fraud issues. Patients are referred to a lab or hospital only in necessary cases

We have been actively building a strong network with payers and companies to guide patients through their healthcare journey with us. Last year, we began referring patients to hospitals and the payers' network of providers after conducting digital consultations with them. Our current focus is on integrating digital and in-person healthcare, primarily facilitating patient navigation.

Currently, we follow up with patients after their hospital visits. This allows us to assess their experience and well-being. Regular consultations and touchpoints foster better patient engagement, leading to improved outcomes.

Contrasting with traditional in-person consultations, where patients often receive brief and impersonal treatment, our approach emphasizes patient care and satisfaction. By nurturing strong engagement and positive patient returns, we can secure the future of digital health. Striking a balance between engaging patients and delivering successful outcomes is essential for sustainability. This engagement process revolves around providing quality care throughout the patient's entire healthcare journey, not just during consultations.

EF: What segments would you like Conexa to explore next?

GW: Our focus is on enhancing the quality and capability of our solutions to effectively tackle healthcare challenges. To achieve this, we are heavily investing in primary care, health analytics, and care coordination. One of our valuable capabilities is accessing a company's claims or payroll, which enables us to identify gaps in healthcare for their employees. For instance, we can detect high-risk breast cancer patients and ensure they receive necessary care, such as mammograms.  

Treating early-stage breast cancer can cost less than $1,000; at stage 4, treatment costs can exceed $100,000. Emphasizing early diagnosis helps address the cost issue and, most importantly, saves lives. This is why we heavily invest in a preventive healthcare model, using data analytics and predictive tools to deliver timely care.
We firmly believe that healthcare costs and quality of life are interconnected. This preventive approach lies at the core of our commitment to achieving better healthcare outcomes.  

EF: What advice would you give future entrepreneurs in Brazil who want to change and improve healthcare in their country?

GW: First and foremost, healthcare is a complex field that demands careful consideration when starting a company. Building a team that understands the market, the pains, and the problems is crucial. Bringing together people with knowledge in healthcare and talent with tech skills will increase success.

Secondly, resilience is key. Unlike other industries, progress in healthcare is gradual and takes time. Entrepreneurs must be prepared for a longer journey and understand that success in this sector requires substantial investment. The field requires people who are here for the long term.

September 2023