Startup Founder Wants to Reach those with Difficult Access to Health Services

Founder of dr. consulta bets on efficiency, electronic medical records and low costs to get millions of Brazilians out of the waiting line for health services

Empreendedor Social 2019

São Paulo

When Thomaz Srougi was 12, he collected pieces of discarded cars under slot car lanes. He had one goal: to sell them and save enough money to buy a coveted Miura model slot car. At the time, he couldn't afford the Miura.

Twenty years later, when he arrived at 5:30 am in the queue of a health post in Sacomã (south of São Paulo), his persistence was the same, but his goal is different. He wanted to understand the difficulties of accessing health care in the poorest regions of São Paulo and to find solutions.

Thomaz's solution was an affordable medical clinic in the Heliópolis favela. In eight years his clinic has expanded to 60 units, with 1,700 doctors, and 1.5 million patients attended to over the past three years.

Thomas spent part of his childhood among gauze and bandages, playing mummy with his younger brother, Victor. But he didn't embrace medicine professionally until 2011.

Thomaz Srougi (Foto: Renato Stockler) - RENATO STOCKLER

At the time, his father, the famed urologist Miguel Srougi, had not yet become one of Brazil's most successful doctors. Further, his proximity to the health care area made him uneasy: "Why don't things work in Brazil? Why are there so many people on the street and nobody does anything? Why do doctors work so hard, and there are people who can't be seen?"

But Thomaz, 43, never thought of being a doctor. Encouraged by her mother, Iara, a philosophy teacher, he focused on sports and his studies. He won medals as a child and youth swimming athlete, graduated in business administration (Faap) and mathematics (USP) and began trading currencies at BBA Bank.

"My story is not very interesting, it's just talk," said the CEO of dr. consulta, when he finished talking about his professional career. Married and a father of two, he prefers not to talk about family.

The financial market, he says, was no shortcut to getting rich: "I liked the intellectual challenge, but I saw employment as a stepping stone to something bigger." Shortly after that, he decided to study finance and public policy at the University of Chicago. His father says this was a milestone in his life.

"Thomaz has never been excited about material comfort. He enjoyed studying in the best schools in the world, meeting people who he admired," said Miguel, a revered doctor in prostate cancer surgery, whose patients include politicians, bankers, and business leaders.

At the University of Chicago, Thomaz became convinced that companies needed to serve the population. "They have the agility to make decisions and are financially self-sufficient."

When he worked at Ambev, he met an executive who one of his mentors, Luiz Claudio Nascimento, with whom he worked on Gafisa's IPO. Together they also set up Tenda, a low-income construction company whose stock launch in 2007 raised $ 345 million.

At 29, Thomaz partnered with his former boss at Galicia Investimentos and started investing in innovative businesses. "We invested in young people with ideas to change Brazil."

The global crisis came, and he left for Harvard, where he specialized in management. It was there when he was studying the case of Mexican Similar Pharmacies that the idea of investing in health care emerged.

"I decided to read everything about the sector and saw that the deficit was large, growing, and without a solution. On the one hand, SUS (Brazil public healthcare system) is stressed by demand, and on the other, increasingly expensive health plans."

Thomaz's alternative was to use management and technology, such as electronic medical records, to lower costs and provide good care at economical prices.

"It won't work," he heard from well-known doctors. He decided to prove otherwise. The entrepreneur, who describes himself as nonconformist, stubborn, and obsessed, used pragmatism and determination in the endeavor, according to the first doctor to join the project, Bruno Reis.

Today Bruno is the medical director of Dr. Consul. He remembers that Thomaz recorded in a spreadsheet all possible data, closely monitored the operation of the clinic, and brought the team together to reinforce the goal of having "happy doctors and patients."

This personal involvement of the entrepreneur, Reis said, compensated for the three hours of traffic that he faced every day to reach Sacomã, in the extreme south of São Paulo.

The CEO, according to Reis, is more dedicated to solutions than obstacles, delegates responsibilities, trusts, and evaluates results realistically and bluntly.

Srougi's father says he puts his trust in others. But there is another side to this: "When Thomaz is disappointed in someone, he simply gets them out of the way."

His son, says Miguel, "is baffled by mistakes, his or others, and sometimes forgets that in human relationships it takes flexibility."

This hardness has softened over time, and he became more amenable to medical practice, according to the urologist.

"He has come to realize that in health, two plus two can be five. There is no mathematical perfection and no use to just doing the math and adopting processes. Values, feelings, and suffering are involved."

Thomaz sees this balance in his mentor. "He always has a human vision of people, is extremely intelligent, has charisma and at the same time delivers results."

"Today we have created new projects, made exams, and created a loyalty program, and all this has worked because he is very bold," his partner said. He also said one of the main qualities of the CEO of Dr. Consultant is that he "believes it can work."

Growth has not been smooth, nor is it finished. The Heliópolis clinic, for example, closed for security reasons. The equation of hiring competent, well-paid doctors and providing quality care at a low price requires constant reinvestment in technology and new services.

The challenge is a juggling act: "You have to keep three dishes in the air at the same time: doctors, patients, and investors."

The return is long term, according to Thomaz and Nascimento. But one of the entrepreneur's brands is perseverance, according to Miguel. "With each challenge, he fights hard to beat him. More than the average person fights."

And the battle is a huge one." Our dream is to increase access to affordable health services," Thomaz said. "And maybe one day export a model born in Heliópolis to the world."

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon