Supporting healthcare providers through Ginger Desk

Dr. Julie Durnan, naturopathic physician, shares how she plans to offer virtual assistant support to chiropractors, counselors, and other healthcare providers all over the world.

Centre, Dr. Julie Durnan, naturopathic physician and founder of Ginger Desk, pictured with her team. Photo: Julie Durnan

Let’s all time-travel back to April of 2020. Can you hear how much quieter the streets of Vancouver are? Take a deep breath while you’re here — free of car exhaust and filled with the buds of spring. But I’m sure you also recall the ‘can-you-hear-me-okay’s of incessant Zoom calls, the children attempting to attend kindergarten classes from home, and the laundry machine running in the background.

Now, imagine you’re a professional offering healthcare services during this period of time. “I watched as all my colleagues retreated from their brick and mortar practices,” said Dr. Julie Durnan, naturopathic doctor based in North Vancouver. “And they started to do telemedicine in their basement apartments and spare bedrooms, and they all thought that it would be relatively simple.” Here, Durnan saw an opportunity to launch Ginger Desk: a platform for allied and medical health care professionals to hire virtual assistants (VAs).

The Ginger Desk team, pictured during a recent meeting. Photo: Julie Durnan

Other professionals in the space — such as chiropractors, midwives, and speech language pathologists — also realized that providing their services from home wouldn’t be as easy as anticipated. These groups sought Ginger Desk to support the work that their in-person front desk would typically accomplish. “Back in 2020, our clients needed help with direct insurance billing in Canada, emails — the load of questions they were getting – and bookings,” said Durnan.

Since April 2020, Ginger Desk has grown from zero to 40 employees, with triple revenue growth year-on-year, and has been consistently profitable from day one. Durnan has tapped into a space that now services over 300 health practices across North America — and eyes more growth to come.

Supply means growing demand, with limited competition

Durnan has had no issues finding VAs to hire, particularly because of the flexibility that Ginger Desk offers to employees. “A lot of our employees are parents,” she tells the Vancouver Tech Journal. “And so they have this really cool opportunity to have their kids around: they can drop kids off at school, pick them up, and they can be there for certain class events, because they're working from home.”

The demand has also diversified beyond her initial suite of naturopathic physician colleagues. “We used to be 100 percent naturopathic doctor focused, and now 70 percent of our clients are naturopathic doctors. The other 30 percent we offer support for are medical doctors,” she said. “We work with a lot of private functional medical doctors, especially in the U.S. We also support chiropractors, midwives, speech language pathologists, physios, occupational therapists, psychologists, and counsellors.”

Competitors that offer similar services are primarily based in the U.S., such as MedVA and HelloRache. These services primarily focus on supporting the private medical healthcare industry in the United States. However, most notably, they outsource VAs from the Philippines, while Ginger Desk’s current employees are all Canadian.

Where next?

“We've had a vision and it was to get to 50 employees,” said Durnan. “And we've achieved that — we're almost at 50 now, and we bootstrapped the whole way through.” But Durnan is eyeing more growth through investor capital.

“We have a vision for a new technology that will allow us to digitize our matching system [...] we'd like to automate that further,” she said. Durnan also wants to expand on a growing product offering, called Ginger Systems. “We're offering setup for direct billing, for electronic medical records setup, and for building out office manuals or practice playbooks for clinic owners.” This came from noted client desire to work with Ginger Desk on a more temporary basis, rather than the longer-term commitment of a VA. “We've got this new department of Ginger Systems Specialists, who are there to now support people on a one-time project-based period.”

"Pets are a big part of our work-from-home culture at Ginger Desk," said Julie Durnan. Photos: Julie Durnan

Notably, Durnan is excited to grow her sales and marketing team, which has primarily been a one-woman show. “Until now we've [had] really organic growth, and me behind the sales team,” she said. “It's time for us to go a lot bigger so that we can reach other countries and further into the U.S.”Ginger Desk is currently a 100 percent woman-owned, woman-led, and women-staffed business. “I really just have this vision for supporting all women in the workplace and women in practice,” said Durnan. Although these demographics are similarly reflected in the naturopathic industry, it’s a lot less so in the worlds of physio and occupational therapy, explained Durnan.

Nonetheless, she’s excited to grow the team with more people, accompanied with automated services — often to the surprise of clients. “People always think Ginger Desk is a team of robots. They always think we're AI, and I always say we're actually a group of people — we’re powered by humans,” she explained. “And it's cool, because what we did was prove [we could offer these services through people]. We have market proof now that we work. And now we're going to [build the] tech, rather than starting with tech before proving it.”

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