STARTUP STORY: Jenny Cohen Derfler, CEO of Air Doctor, Talks Health and Travel
STARTUP STORY: Jenny Cohen Derfler, CEO of Air Doctor, Talks Health and Travel
Air Doctor, the brainchild of its CEO, Jenny Cohen Derfler, connects travellers to medical experts worldwide through its state-of-the art app, which serves customers through their insurers for a streamlined process.
Jenny Cohen Derfler - Air Doctor

Air Doctor connects travellers to private doctors worldwide through its state-of-the art app, which serves customers through their insurers for a streamlined process. 

The service means that customers can have total peace of mind while travelling abroad because if the worst should happen, they can easily book a medical appointment with the doctor of their choice, at their location, and their insurance company handles the rest. 

Launched in 2018, Air Doctor has attracted US$30.9 million in funding and is now available in 75 countries, with 20,000 doctors in its network. Earlier this year, Air Doctor also partnered with ERGO Travel Insurance and OK Away. 

Jenny Cohen Derfler, CEO and Co-Founder of Air Doctor, developed the idea following a long career in the tech  industry. We caught up with her to find out more. 

Your background is firmly anchored in technology – you worked for Intel for a long time. What brought you to the insurance industry?

The understanding that our product solves a huge problem in the travel insurance, improves the customer journey, and significantly reduces costs.

As someone with a strong background in technology, my journey into the insurance industry may seem unconventional at first glance. Having worked for Intel Corporation for many years in executive positions, I’ve developed a deep understanding of technological advancements and their potential to transform various industries. It was after founding Air Doctor that I came across a glaring issue in the travel insurance sector.

Travel insurance is an essential aspect of the travel experience, providing peace of mind and protection against unforeseen events. But I realised that the existing processes and systems were outdated, resulting in inefficiencies, cumbersome claims procedures, and higher costs for both insurers and customers. This realization sparked my interest in matching Air Doctor’s innovative solutions to address these challenges.

When I delved deeper into the insurance industry, I discovered the immense potential for technology-driven advancements. It became evident that by leveraging technology, we could not only enhance the customer journey but also significantly reduce costs for insurers.

Our product was developed with this vision in mind – to solve a significant problem in the travel insurance sector. We recognised the need for streamlined processes, simplified claims management, and a seamless fully digital, cashless, and claimless customer experience. And we aim to revolutionise the industry by implementing cutting-edge technology and data-driven solutions.

The insurance industry, like any other, is ripe for disruption. With my background in technology, I bring a fresh perspective and a deep understanding of how advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation can be harnessed to transform the insurance landscape. By combining my technological expertise with a strong focus on customer-centric solutions, we can create an insurance experience that is efficient, transparent, and tailored to the needs of modern travellers.

In conclusion, it was the realisation that our product could address a significant problem in the travel insurance sector, improve the customer journey, and reduce costs that brought me to the insurance industry. By leveraging technology and innovation, we can drive positive change and make a meaningful impact in an industry that is ready for transformation.

Air Doctor is available to travellers in 75 countries globally

What attracted you to the health insurance space – and travel particularly – is there a story there?

Yes, there is indeed a story behind my attraction to the health insurance space, particularly in the context of travel. It was my partner and co-founder’s personal experience that brought up the idea in his mind, and my personal experience that served as a catalyst for my interest in improving the healthcare and insurance systems for travellers.

A few years ago, I found myself in Budapest, Hungary, on vacation. Unfortunately, during my stay, I fell ill and required medical attention. Being in a foreign country, I faced the challenge of finding a private doctor who could assist me promptly. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t locate a suitable healthcare provider in the area.

With no other options, I ended up in a local hospital, where I had a rather disheartening experience. I had to endure long waiting times, communication difficulties due to language barriers, and a general lack of personalised care. It was a frustrating and unsettling situation, compounded by the fact that I had to pay out of pocket for the medical expenses and then wait for many months to be reimbursed by my health insurance provider.

This personal encounter with the shortcomings of the healthcare and insurance systems left a lasting impact on me. I realised the immense challenges that travellers face when seeking quality healthcare abroad, and how insurance processes can often add additional burdens to an already stressful situation.

This experience became a driving force in my decision to delve into the health insurance space, with a specific focus on travel insurance. I wanted to contribute to improving the accessibility and quality of healthcare services for travellers, ensuring that they receive the care they need promptly and with the utmost convenience.

By leveraging technological advancements, data analytics, and a customer-centric approach, I believe that we can revolutionise the travel insurance sector. My goal was to create a seamless and efficient experience for travellers, where they could access a network of trusted healthcare providers, receive immediate assistance in their preferred language, and have a simplified claims process that ensures timely reimbursement.

Ultimately, my personal experience served as a wake-up call and ignited my passion for making a difference in the health insurance space, particularly for travellers. I am driven to create solutions that alleviate the challenges I faced, allowing individuals to have peace of mind when they travel, knowing that their health needs are properly addressed, and their insurance claims are handled smoothly.

This story reinforces my commitment to improving the health insurance landscape, and it constantly reminds me of the impact we can make by providing travellers with reliable and efficient healthcare services during their journeys.

What differentiates Air Doctor from other travel/health insurance providers?

Air Doctor provides a platform that supports the travel insurance industry. We have pioneered the global market for international travellers, being the first of our kind to address their unique healthcare needs. With a vast network of over 20,000 doctors and specialists across 75 countries, our digital platform offers unparalleled accessibility and convenience.

One thing that sets us apart is our dedication to personalization and innovation. Our proprietary technology allows us to tailor our product to the specific requirements of insurers and online travel agencies (OTAs), making us the preferred choice in the industry. Through strategic partnerships with our affiliates, we provide comprehensive healthcare solutions to travellers via our innovative B2B model.

By seamlessly connecting travellers to the most suitable healthcare options, we help insurers reduce their claims costs by up to 50%. However, our ultimate focus remains on enhancing the traveller’s experience. With Air Doctor, travellers have the freedom to choose their preferred doctor, ensuring a perfect fit for their needs. They can also select the type of visit, whether it’s a clinic visit, at-home consultation, or virtual appointment, along with their preferred date and time.

But the biggest defining feature to Air Doctor is our commitment to simplifying the entire customer journey. Once the traveller receives the necessary care, there are no lengthy and frustrating claims processes – meaning less interruptions to their trip! And since the insurance provider covers the consultation fee, it’s a seamless, cashless, and claimless experience for the traveller.

At Air Doctor, we are revolutionising where travel and healthcare intersect, empowering travellers with greater control, choice, and peace of mind. Our unique approach and customer-centric solutions make us the preferred solution for both insurers and adventurers alike.

What are the biggest challenges facing your particular area of expertise at this moment in time, and why – and what strategies did you use to navigate through them?

Air Doctor has been actively tackling the challenges of boosting activation rates in both the B2B and B2C segments, which has been a primary focus. While our partners recognize the numerous benefits of Air Doctor, shifting customer behavior has proven to be a complex endeavor, resulting in lower activation rates than desired.

To overcome this challenge, we have implemented a multifaceted approach encompassing increased brand awareness, targeted campaigns, and strategic collaborations. By reimagining the typical travel insurance customer journey, we aim to create a fully customised, digital end-to-end experience that resonates with our target audience.

We’ve established close partnerships with the marketing departments of our strategic allies, working together to identify optimal customer touchpoints. Through comprehensive stakeholder analysis, we’ve created tailored plans for each stakeholder group, optimising activation processes, and effectively reaching the end customers. This enables us to amplify brand awareness for our innovative service, ensuring that we connect with customers at every step of their journey and provide crucial support when they encounter health issues abroad.

Launching any company is not an easy task, but Air Doctor is moving from strength to strength. What are the key things you attribute this success to? 

One of the key drivers behind Air Doctor’s remarkable success lies in our unwavering commitment to a people-first approach. We firmly believe that empathy should be at the heart of every aspect of our operations, ensuring that our staff, partners, and users consistently have an exceptional experience.

At Air Doctor, we prioritise creating solutions that genuinely serve people and add significant value to their lives. This principle extends beyond just interactions with our team; it permeates every aspect of our technology and services. We recognize that launching and growing a company is a collaborative effort, and our focus on empathy allows us to forge strong connections with our stakeholders.

By placing people at the forefront, we are better able to understand their needs, challenges, and aspirations. This deep understanding drives us to develop innovative solutions that address these pain points effectively. We invest in building a supportive and empowering work environment that nurtures our team’s talents and fosters a culture of collaboration, creativity, and excellence.

Moreover, we actively seek out strategic partnerships and collaborations with like-minded organisations that share our commitment to prioritizing people’s well-being. These partnerships help us expand our reach, enhance our services, and create a seamless and holistic experience for our users.

Ultimately, the success of Air Doctor can be attributed to our continuous focus on putting people first. By fostering empathy, delivering valuable solutions, and cultivating strong relationships, we continue to strengthen our position in the industry and move confidently towards our vision of providing accessible and exceptional healthcare services for travellers worldwide.

The pandemic limited travel significantly on a global scale. How did Air Doctor as a company manage that period of time? 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the halt to travel was a significant challenge to overcome. However, we approached this period strategically and proactively, utilising the time to lay a strong foundation for the future.

Recognizing that travel would eventually resume, we invested our efforts in building meaningful collaborations with key players in the industry. By establishing these strong partnerships, we ensured that Air Doctor would be well-positioned to meet the anticipated surge in demand once travel restrictions eased.

While travel was limited, we also aimed to expand our medical network. Understandably, with fewer travellers seeking medical assistance, it was a unique hurdle to attract new doctors to our platform. However, we remained committed to our vision and recognized the long-term value of continuing to grow our network. 

Throughout this challenging period, we remained focused on our mission and the value we provide to travellers. We adapted our strategies, allocated resources wisely, and ensured that we were well-prepared for the inevitable recovery of the travel industry. By leveraging this time effectively, we positioned Air Doctor for success as the world began to reopen its borders.

The Air Doctor leadership team

As a female CEO and co-founder, what’s your take on diversity in the insurance industry?

As a female CEO and co-founder, I believe that diversity is not only important but essential in the insurance industry. It is evident that tech companies, including those in the insurance sector, have a crucial role to play in the fight towards gender equality.

Tech companies have significant influence as major employers and creators of products and services that shape our daily lives. This influence extends to the representation and treatment of women in the industry, as well as the impact of technology on gender equity as a whole.

Personally, I am committed to addressing biases and stereotypes that may discourage women from participating and investing in the insurance industry. By creating an inclusive and supportive environment, we can foster a diverse range of talents and perspectives that contribute to innovation and success.

Studies have shown that startups led by women CEOs have a higher rate of success. A 2019 study by Boston Consulting Group and MassChallenge revealed that startups founded or co-founded by women generated more revenue per dollar of invested capital compared to startups founded by men. This data underscores the value of diversity and highlights the untapped potential that exists when women are given equal opportunities to lead and contribute.

The insurance industry, like many others, is witnessing an increased focus on diversity and gender equality. This momentum is a positive step forward, as it paves the way for women to break glass ceilings and overcome challenges. By embracing diversity, promoting equal opportunities, and creating a culture of inclusion, we can unlock the full potential of our industry and drive meaningful change.

I am dedicated to driving this change and ensuring that the insurance industry becomes a place where all individuals, regardless of gender, have equal opportunities to thrive, succeed, and make a lasting impact.

If you could give one piece of advice to a younger you, what would it be and why?

The corporate world offers stability, structured career paths, and valuable learning experiences. However, looking back, I realise that there is immense value in embracing the world of entrepreneurship and pursuing business opportunities on a global scale.

By entering the entrepreneurial realm sooner, I would have had the chance to explore my own ideas, take calculated risks, and create innovative solutions that have the potential to make a significant impact much earlier in my career. Building a business from the ground up allows for greater autonomy, creative freedom, and the opportunity to shape industries and markets.

Moreover, operating at a global level opens doors to an expanded network, diverse perspectives, and the ability to tap into markets beyond borders. In today’s interconnected world, the potential for global expansion is more accessible than ever before, with technology bridging geographical gaps and enabling collaborations across continents.

Taking the leap into entrepreneurial ventures at an earlier stage would have provided me with the chance to cultivate a mindset of agility, adaptability, and resilience. It would have exposed me to a wider range of challenges and allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of market dynamics, emerging trends, and customer needs on a global scale.

While the corporate world offers stability and a solid foundation, embracing entrepreneurship earlier would have fueled my passion for innovation and allowed me to follow my own vision. The entrepreneurial journey is not without its challenges, but the rewards can be immensely fulfilling, both personally and professionally.

In summary, if I had the opportunity to advise a younger version of myself, I would encourage them to step out of the corporate world sooner and embark on entrepreneurial endeavours with a global focus. This path would have offered a unique set of experiences, expanded my horizons, and empowered me to create meaningful change on a larger scale.

What new things can we expect from Air Doctor over the next 12 to 18 months? 

Air Doctor has an exciting roadmap ahead, with various initiatives that will shape our future and benefit travellers worldwide.

Of course, will be forging new partnerships with key industry players. These partnerships will enable us to expand our reach and provide even more comprehensive healthcare solutions to travellers. By collaborating with like-minded organisations, we aim to enhance our services, increase accessibility, and deliver an unparalleled experience to users.

Our team is also hard at work, diligently refining and enhancing the Air Doctor platform. We’re committed to incorporating valuable feedback from our users and leveraging the latest technological advancements to ensure a seamless and user-friendly experience. 

In addition, we recognise the importance of increasing awareness about Air Doctor on a global scale. By expanding our global footprint and engaging with diverse communities, we seek to create a world where access to quality healthcare is available to all, regardless of location.

What inspires you in insurtech today?

What inspires me in insurtech today is the remarkable eagerness and willingness of industry leaders and staff at all levels to transform the way they conduct their business. There is a genuine drive among insurtech professionals to embrace digitalization, enhance productivity, and deliver a seamless customer journey.

In an industry that has traditionally been known for its conservative approach and bureaucratic processes, witnessing this level of enthusiasm and determination to change is truly inspiring. Insurtech companies are recognizing the need to adapt to the evolving landscape, driven by technological advancements and shifting customer expectations.

The insurtech industry is actively seeking innovative solutions to streamline internal operations, automate manual processes, and leverage data analytics to make informed decisions. By adopting cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence, and digital platforms, insurtech companies are revolutionising the way insurance is underwritten, claims are processed, and customer experiences are personalised.

One of the most impressive aspects of insurtech is the commitment to providing a seamless customer journey. Recognizing the importance of customer-centricity, insurtech firms are investing in user-friendly interfaces, intuitive mobile applications, and digital platforms that empower policyholders to manage their insurance needs with ease and convenience.

While insurtech companies may encounter challenges in navigating the internal bureaucratic processes of traditional insurance organisations, they remain resolute in their mission to drive change. They are willing to challenge the status quo, break down silos, and foster a culture of innovation. This determination is what inspires me the most.

In summary, the insurtech industry’s eagerness to embrace digitalization, enhance productivity, and deliver a seamless customer journey is truly inspiring. Despite the hurdles they may face internally, insurtech leaders and professionals remain committed to driving transformation and making a positive impact in the insurance industry. Their dedication to change fuels my own passion and belief in the power of technology and innovation to shape the future of insurance.

Join Air Doctor at Insurtech Insights USA 2023 in New York

You can join the experts Air Doctor at Insurtech Insights USA 2023 on June 7th and 8th at the Javits Center in New York, at Booth 416. You can register for the conference here:

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