Welcome to ROAM

Me eating sushi on Mt. Fuji and thinking about how hard it is to find a doctor abroad.
By Chris Motz

A small injury, a big problem.

Three years ago the permanent retainer along my bottom teeth broke while I was on exchange in Tokyo. If this has never happened to you, this is what I’ll call a ‘non-emergency emergency’. It’s not life threatening in any way, but you have a broken metal wire jabbing into your tongue, so you can’t really eat without a lot of pain. Needless to say, it was very annoying and I needed to deal with it ASAP.

There is no shortage of dentists in Tokyo, and my school’s administrator kindly directed me to one across the street. No one at the dental office spoke much English, and despite the staff's patience, my limited Japanese was not able to get me very far. They were able to provide a band-aid solution of essentially glueing the wire back down, but unfortunately this temporary fix was just that. After a few hours and a crunchy meal, the glue would fall off and leave me back at square one. This process happened a few more times, leading me to vent to my parents who were in town visiting. Probably tired of my complaining, they went to their hotel concierge, who found me an American-trained dentist that finally put my case to rest by ripping out the whole retainer – albeit for a pretty hefty price tag.

I was relieved to finally be pain free, but confused as to why it had been so difficult to find a good English-speaking dentist in the biggest city in the world. There are nearly 16,000 dentists in Tokyo – if you walk around it feels like there’s one at every intersection – but I had still had to rely on a fancy hotel concierge to find an English one and book an appointment for me.  Either I was useless (hopefully not) or something didn’t add up.

Finding healthcare service abroad is hard, but it doesn’t need to be.

I spent the remainder of my time in Tokyo and the following 6 months in Singapore speaking with hundreds of expats and travellers to try to better understand this problem. It became clear that it wasn’t just me and that finding reliable, English-speaking healthcare services abroad really is difficult – so difficult that many expats will avoid seeking care until absolutely necessary, or in extreme circumstances, even fly home.

But this is neither a reasonable nor a legitimate option in a lot of cases. Let’s say you’re travelling through Southeast Asia and you get bitten by a rabid dog (extreme but bear with me), you’ll need to get a series of 4 treatment shots over the next 2 weeks. Imagine just how difficult this would be if you’re changing cities or even countries every few days. While this may seem like a stretch, this is just one of the real nightmare healthcare stories I heard while researching this problem.

There currently are not good resources on how to access healthcare services as someone who’s new to a country and doesn’t speak the language. We have all these tools like Skyscanner, Airbnb, or booking.com that make travelling abroad easier and more accessible. And, with the exception of a few years recently 🙃, people are spending more time abroad than ever before. The best estimates suggest there are nearly 250m worldwide expats – individuals living and working abroad full time – and last year there were 1.6b international tourist arrivals., At the same time, medical tourism, a tangential market, has been growing like crazy – $97.3b last year and expected to grow to $337b in five years – indicating an increased willingness to spend money on out-of-country medical services. Despite all of this, there is still a big question mark when it comes to healthcare abroad. The process of finding medical services in a foreign country is roughly the same and as difficult as it was 10 years ago. This is where ROAM comes in.

Introducing ROAM, healthcare for a connected world.

ROAM is a web service that seamlessly connects expats and travellers to healthcare services abroad based on their needs, preferences, and expectations. How does it work? Our first product is separated into 3 features: a detailed health system guide, a curated directory of English-speaking providers, and finally a concierge booking service.

Health System Guide

The hardest part can often be knowing where to start. Where do I go? What can I expect at my appointment? Am I going to break the bank getting treated? These questions (plus many more!) are answered in these guides.  Every country’s health system is different, so not everything matches up perfectly. There are so many subtleties that can seem impossible to understand, especially when you’re sick. ROAM’s guides give you the confidence to navigate through a new medical landscape.

Provider Directory

We have spent countless hours curating a directory of the best English-speaking clinics and hospitals over 10+ specialties. You can filter by distance, insurance accepted, cost, or ratings to find the perfect provider for you. For each provider, you can view a custom profile where you can find photos, reviews, and price estimates. Every clinic and hospital we list speaks English (as well as some other languages!) and has been certified by local authorities to treat foreign patients. We contact providers directly to assure that their information is accurate and up to date.

ROAM Concierge

But ROAM is not just an information platform, we are a service to enable and empower the healthcare experience for foreigners, and we do this through ROAM Concierge. As soon as you arrive on ROAM’s website, enter your information in the ROAM Concierge booking form. We’ll immediately begin an email or WhatsApp conversation with you to confirm what healthcare service you need and recommend the most appropriate one for you. Then ROAM will take care of the rest! We’ll set up the appointment, let you know where it is and how to get there, and do anything else to make sure your medical experience goes as smoothly as possible abroad. If there’s anything that comes up, just message us and we’ll get it sorted.

Enough talk! Want to check it out? ROAM is live now in Tokyo!

We plan to build your complete global health platform.

We are very early in our journey and have a long way to go to solve this massive problem. ROAM will only be as powerful as the number of cities we’re in, whether that’s in the biggest city in the world or my hometown of Waterloo. And we plan to address the needs of not just English-speaking travellers, but also those in the United States or Canada from non-English speaking countries. Did you know that there are 800 languages spoken in Queens, New York? I’m sure the 47% of the borough’s residents born abroad might not always want to see English doctors.

Then there is the larger problem of interoperability – or lack thereof – between different countries’ healthcare systems. Even within one city, it can be a huge pain to send your medical records between doctors. Now imagine how hard it would be to send it to a doctor in a different country? This fragmentation leads to some pretty dramatic situations. If you get the same conditions treated by 2 doctors, you can be left with different diagnoses, different treatment plans, and a lot of confusion. Additionally, consider all the people moving to new countries with chronic conditions. Does a new immigrant with diabetes need to see a new endocrinologist to get the insulin they've been taking for 20 years? Improving interoperability between health care systems is a lofty goal, and one that’s likely years away, but that’s the end goal and what will keep guiding ROAM forward. We want to be your complete global health platform; a one-stop shop for all your medical needs at home and abroad.

There’s a long way to go, but for now check out ROAM Tokyo.

Let’s take it back down to earth! Before we get ahead of ourselves with interoperable global medical records, ROAM needs to solve the immediate problems: What do you do when you get sick abroad and how can we get someone feeling better as quickly and painlessly as possible?

ROAM is live in Tokyo with 60+ providers. If you’re travelling to Tokyo soon, we hope you stay healthy, but if not, don’t panic, use ROAM to find the best English-speaking providers in the city. We have ambitious plans, and we’re excited to take you along on this journey with us.

Use ROAM to find English-speaking health care services in Tokyo today.
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