French company Doctolib’s website and app allows users to make medical appointments through an online portal. They have exploded in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic – allowing many to access both vaccinations and consultations with relative ease – and the company now plans to expand into Italy and Germany. But the emergence of a private company to fill a gap in the public health sector in France also highlights the country’s failure to modernize the medical services industry.
The latest Covid-19 announcements from the French government are always followed by a scramble for the Doctolib site and app, with people quickly filling all available time slots. When it was first announced that a health pass would be required to access restaurants and public places in July, some 1.35 million people rushed to make an appointment for a vaccine, making crash the Doctolib site.
In the 24 hours which followed the announcement by the Minister of Health Olivier Véran that a third jab would be necessary for the health pass to remain valid from January 15, more than 1.2 million people rushed to Doctolib to reserve a reminder.
With 60 million users and an estimated turnover of 150 to 200 million euros in 2020, Doctolib has established itself as a success story for French tech.
This French “unicorn” – that is to say a start-up whose valuation exceeded one billion dollars without going public – has seen its payroll triple since its creation in 2013. With more than 1,700 employees, the he company has continued to grow: more than 250 job offers published on its website for establishments in France, Germany and Italy. In October, it acquired an Italian company providing the same service, Dottori.it.
Data stored by Amazon
Doctolib has become a key player in vaccination in France since the emergence of Covid-19, offering access to nearly 90% of French Covid vaccination centers, according to Le Monde.
Competitors have emerged – including Maija, Allodocteur and Vitodoc – but Doctolib’s rapid development and its continued near-monopoly position in online medical appointments raise difficult questions.
“Health is a sensitive area of the economy because of the personal data recorded; and storing this data securely is an essential public service, ”Frédéric Bizard, economist specializing in public health, told FRANCE 24.
Doctors and patient associations raised some of the issues relating to Doctolib before France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, in March. They argued that because Doctolib stores patient data on Amazon Web Services – the US giant’s cloud computing arm – then Amazon, as a US company, would be required to comply with any requests for information made by them. US intelligence agencies.
The court ruled in Doctolib’s favor, saying “safeguards” were already in place in the event that US authorities requested data on French patients from Amazon. Doctolib also noted that it encrypts its data.
But an investigation by France Inter radio in March revealed that Doctolib’s data was not encrypted once it arrived in the Amazon Web Services cloud. Additionally, Doctolib’s German subsidiary found itself embroiled in a data use controversy in June, when the media accused it of sending information about local users to Facebook and the internet marketing company. Outbrain. Information on searches performed by people on the Doctolib site had been sold to both companies along with their IP addresses.
Doctolib immediately backtracked, removing these cookies from its German version and promising never to sell such data again.
“Above all, Doctolib is a private company whose goal is to earn money and develop rapidly; the French government must not forget this, ”said Bizard.
The government had left a void in public services which was then exploited by Doctolib, Bizard said, adding that the company’s meteoric success was due to “France’s failure to digitize the health system of the State”.
“The UK and Spain don’t need a Doctolib equivalent because they have successfully digitized (the healthcare industry),” Bizard said. “The UK invested £ 3 billion in digitization ten years ago, while France only invested € 150 million in 2005.”
French doctors are also reluctant to use the digital tools offered by the public social security system, Bizard said. They are much more willing to use Doctolib because it “offers them assistance in making the technology very easy for them to use”.
The popularity of Doctolib has skyrocketed with doctors and patients alike, the number of healthcare professionals registered on the site having quadrupled, from 75,000 to 300,000 over the past two years.
This article has been translated from the original into French.