In the COVID-19 crisis, Portugal’s Knok makes a doctor teleconference simple and affordable

By Chris Welsch

As the COVID-19 crisis puts unprecedented pressure on healthcare systems across the world, demand for Knok’s online service has increased dramatically.

Knok offers medical consultations by video that people can access via a simple app on their phone or by going to a website on their computer. The service lets patients find and talk to a doctor without leaving home. They can also get prescriptions or referrals.

In Portugal, where the company is based, the service is covered by private healthcare insurance providers. The company also sells its software to hospitals and healthcare systems.

The startup is the brainchild of José Bastos, an economist who left a corporate job to create the business about three years ago. “My wife and I have two children. When one fell ill, then the other one would follow,” he says, “and when we both had corporate jobs, taking time to go to the hospital was not at all convenient.”

The original idea was an app to arrange house calls (hence the name, like a knock on the door), but the video-consulting part of the business has quickly become central, with  Knok suspending its home visit service during the coronavirus pandemic. The video appointments, which last about 15 minutes, normally cost €17, and 79% of the time happen within 90 minutes of the request.

Free consultations

The COVID-19 crisis has brought more business to Knok.

“In the midst of all this, we are one of the fortunate ones,” José says. “On the commercial side, we’re getting a lot of requests from hospitals and systems to buy our software. On the social side, we’re very proud that in Portugal we’re offering free consultations.”

As the crisis grew, José put out a call for volunteer doctors to provide free consultations as a way to reach patients who were either in remote areas or simply unable to organise a visit in overwhelmed clinics and hospitals – and without the risk of being infected or infecting others. More than 250 people responded. Knok is currently providing about 400 consultations per day throughout the system in Portugal.

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José Bastos created Knok because it was hard to find time to see a doctor when his kids became ill ©Knock

“We are making a real social impact by doing this and we’re helping our country by easing access to healthcare for people who normally would have a hard time getting it,” José says.

The company operates in Portugal, Brazil and South Africa, and is working on opening operations in Italy and Spain. Aside from its doctors, Knok has 12 employees, eight of them on the information technology side.

José hopes Knok can continue to make healthcare more efficient, even after the pandemic.

“We were very keen on the idea that the healthcare system as a whole needs efficiency,” he says. “It’s hard to make exponential gains in systems that are already pretty efficient, but this has a meaningful impact.”

Knok is part of the alumni network of the Social Innovation Tournament, run by the European Investment Bank Institute. The SIT alumni network is composed of tournament finalists and some entrepreneurs selected to attend executive training courses organised with the Catholic University of Portugal.