Esther Go flew the coop to study computer science in the US and eventually started her career in healthcare services there as well. However, she has always held her home, the Philippines, close to her heart. So, when Esther returned in 2007, she was eager to be closer to her family and joined her father’s business, MediLink Network, as CEO. For almost 20 years, MediLink has helped healthcare companies become more efficient, reliable and cost-effective in delivering services through streamlined IT solutions.

The result – a fluid healthcare ecosystem that seamlessly links two million patients with insurers, doctors, hospitals and clinics. MediLink’s state-of-the-art technology solutions have continued to evolve throughout the twenty-first century, now processing more than 100 million healthcare transactions every day.

Esther Go, CEO of Medilink
Esther Go, CEO of Medilink

The CEO Magazine: What was your first priority when coming onboard as CEO?
Esther: I was employee number seven, so I focused on building the team and scaling our services. Back then, our company offered electronic eligibility verification services and with such a small staff, our only option to expand was through automation. Our growth story is not a result of some ivory tower brainstorming session – it was a series of pragmatic responses to the challenges we saw on the ground.

The common thread through all our growth spurts was technology: it’s part of our corporate DNA. Our Equicom group of companies is in the business of helping our clients and customers to stay healthy, wealthy and wise. Our health portfolio includes MyHealth Clinics and Metro Dental, while our finance portfolio consists of Equicom Savings Bank and ALGO Leasing. But our main focus is IT, where we offer hardware and software services including integration and application development, and back office operations.

“We’re in the business of helping our clients and customers to stay healthy, wealthy and wise.”

MediLink is continually upgrading its service offering – tell us about some of the big milestones.

In 1999, our first service offering was electronic health benefit eligibility verification, enabled by repurposed point-of-sale (POS) terminals. In 2004, we introduced a payment service and, in 2007, we introduced a healthcare payer system that allowed insurers to design a policy, underwrite risk, enrol members, provide customer service, process claims and bill patients.

Due to ballooning customer service requirements, we then made self-service portals available for members, doctors, hospitals and clinics, followed by the introduction of web and mobile applications. More recently, we boosted our core engine to incorporate machine learning and function either as human-decision support or fully automated transaction processing with
fraud detection.

How is MediLink helping people overcome the fragmented healthcare system in the Philippines?M

Everyone recognises the need for healthcare access but I think what deters most people from getting health coverage or seeking early care is the cost involved. Demand has grown due to the prevalence of early-onset lifestyle diseases and population increase with a rising number of seniors. However, the growth in the supply of healthcare services is more muted because there’s a limit to the number of medical personnel who join the industry each year. So, inevitably, costs will increase.

The traditional model of patients interacting with doctors in a face-to-face setting is inefficient and time-consuming. For certain conditions, it may be possible to consult a doctor remotely, using voice or video chat. Further, there are now sensors that attach to mobile phones and allow users to capture vitals and send results to their doctor or health partner.

Esther Go, CEO of Medilink

Why has MediLink’s business model been so successful?

We stitch together an electronic network that connects payers, accounts, members, patients, hospitals, clinics and doctors. We’ve taken what used to be a lengthy process and turned it into an instant transaction facilitated by a POS terminal, mobile app, kiosk and web application.

We’ve also found a way to simplify the previously labour-intensive process of claims adjudication through automation. Using business rules, artificial intelligence and machine learning models, processing can now be done in seconds, rather than minutes or days as under the old paradigm. It’s more efficient, consistent and affordable.

Fast facts:

At the prestigious 2017 International Innovation Awards, Medilink received the Innovation Award for ‘Harnessing Machine Learning to Enable Efficient, Accessible and Affordable Healthcare’ in the services and solutions category, besting entries from 16 countries.

Recognised for exemplifying remarkable leadership and tenacity in pursuing sustainable success in the Philippine’s healthcare services industry, Esther Go was honoured at last year’s Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards, one of 17 leaders selected from 11 industries throughout the Philippines.

What are your plans for the future?

Our short-term goal is to continue automating transactional processes and freeing our user base – payers, hospitals, clinics and doctors – from routine. By removing repetitive tasks, they can channel more resources towards patient care while we take care of their back office services.

From there, we want to offer a platform that enables patients to access health care early and conveniently through telephone or video consultations on a mobile app. Ultimately, we’d like to engage members through gamifying their health-seeking behaviour and connecting the health circle – patients, family, friends and health partners.

How do you pick the right people for the team and instil a strong culture?

Initially, we recruited new people by screening for mainly technical skills, focusing mostly on science, technology, engineering » and maths graduates. Over time, we’ve learned that success in school is not the only factor in predicting performance. Rather, alignment of values, critical thinking, communication and interpersonal skills are just as important. Our top performers are not only skilled, they are passionate and committed to our mission of enabling efficient, accessible and affordable health care.

We are first and foremost a company of geeks who enjoy working with each other and trying new things. For a small company like ours, we need to be brave enough to engage in creative destruction – to look at our existing services critically, be willing to knock it down, and create a new and better offering from the ground up. Once we lose that drive and are no longer willing to do that to ourselves, we risk having our competitors do that to us.

How has new technology changed the healthcare services industry?

A traditionally paper-intensive business, the healthcare sector is beginning to realise that the only way forward is to shift towards electronic transactions. Only when transactions are electronic can we offer value-added services using metadata such as service-level tracking, audit, and analysis to surpass current performance levels.

In the global health space, innovation is important because nobody has found the magic bullet. It’s ironic that during an age of improved technology, scientific knowledge, living conditions and personal freedoms, more young people are experiencing early-onset lifestyle diseases. It’s a large challenge, but the more people examining the problem and working on it, the better off we’ll all be.

Esther Go, CEO of Medilink

What does success mean to you?

For me, success is about fulfilling one’s life purpose. Not about anything else. My purpose is to help make the world a better place through technology. I consider it providential, rather than serendipitous, that technology has been such an integral part of my life. Our family business was computer services, so I literally grew up in a data centre.

Initially, I struggled at school abroad because the traditional schooling I’d had while growing up was not geared towards critical thinking, but rather to parroting back the ‘correct’ answer. Hence, I focused on my strengths in maths and computer science.

I then drifted into healthcare and financial services, product development and business operations, but the pull of technology was always there. Now, I am in health-tech, which synthesises my previous experience and lifelong interest – I’m where I’m meant to be.

I’m motivated to help advance universal healthcare access because, with age, I realise how precious health is. Good health is a springboard from which one can build a productive and happy life. It’s a truly priceless asset: it cannot be bought nor is it retrievable once lost. For me, working on ways that enable people to stay healthy is a meaningful job and it will be my life’s work.