The United Nations predicted that by 2050, Singapore’s aged will make up almost half its total population; in fact, by 2030, Singapore will be a “super-aged” country, where one in five people are aged 65 or older. This means the need for robust, affordable and holistic senior care will grow in tandem. Enter Homage, a technology-driven platform where caregivers and health professionals are matched to those who need healthcare most, when they need it most. Options speaks to Gillian Tee, CEO and co-founder of Homage.
SINGAPORE (July 17): Gillian Tee, co-founder and CEO of on-demand healthcare services provider Homage, was, by her own confession, a “wild child”. Running with abandon through a field of overgrown grass near her childhood home at Old Bedok Road, she had ignored the remonstrations of her nanny — an elderly Malaysian lady who took care of her during her formative years.
No surprises about what happened next: Tee tripped and fell, practically ripping the skin off her left knee, which till this day bears a nasty scar. Her alarmed nanny immediately came to her aid. Yet despite the blood and pain, Tee remembers that day with great fondness. “I was such a wild child, I’m just getting into all sorts of trouble. You know, running outside and falling down for no rhyme nor reason, and she would always be the one who would clean up after my mess!” she laughs.
“This episode from my childhood has always stuck with me because I remember her being so loving and patient.”
The reason this memory stands out, says Tee, is because of the care which her nanny had always shown her. “Her love was always unconditional, and the bond we had was beyond nanny and child,” adds Tee.
It is with this unconditional love and care in mind that Tee set up Homage, a Singapore-born healthcare service start-up which utilises technology to match those in need with the best possible caregiver or health provider. As the name suggests, it is a tribute to her nanny, who passed away from bone and breast cancer when Tee was 12 years old.
Homage Care service is the start-up’s core nursing, caregiving and rehabilitation service. Aside from its focus on caregiving for the elderly, Homage also offers on-demand healthcare services — such as mobile medicine, teleconsultation, and medication delivery — through a combination of certified care professionals and proprietary technology. Homage curates and screens all of its pool of almost 2,000 caregivers, nurses and healthcare professionals.
And, with reports that Singapore will be a “super-aged” country by 2030, where one in five people are aged 65 or older, this has increasingly spurred concern for the rising needs of long-term care. Not only that, an increase in non-communicable diseases means the need for robust, affordable and holistic care will grow in tandem.
The company has also been supporting health organisational partners, including public hospitals across the island, to deliver mobile medicine services where doctors on Homage’s platform deliver in-person house calls for care recipients, families and seniors.
In addition, it has delivered teleconsultations as part of Covid-19 initiatives, powering islandwide mobile clinics. Its work has gained recognition and accolades from many quarters, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Homage is not Tee’s first foray into the world of start-ups, but it is definitely the one closest to her heart. She did not immediately connect the idea of Homage to her nanny — not at first — but she always knew she wanted to grow a business that would make a social impact.
“I knew I wanted to start a company [when I came home to Singapore],” she says,” And I was very driven to create a company that had social impact, in particular, building a company to enable women to get access to more income opportunities. I was looking at first to support foreign domestic workers, perhaps education or helping women to train in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
An entrepreneur and a Computer Science degree graduate, Tee cut her teeth as a technology consultant with Accenture in the US, and then later as co-founder of Rocketrip, a travel startup incentivising business travel the same way as personal travel. Her memory of her nanny stuck with her, through it all; and when several of her family members had difficulties finding the care they needed for their conditions, Homage was born in 2016.
“A few things happened sort of all at once. I connected with a number of people — many who have become my mentors since then — who were going through tough caregiving experiences. Sadly, my uncle suffered a stroke, and at the same time, my aunt also suffered from advanced and aggressive Alzheimer’s,” says Tee. “What struck me most was that our family was made up of highly-qualified doctors — elite doctors in elite hospitals — but they also struggled to cope and deal with caregiving.”
This led to Tee taking a much harder look at this gap in the market, and she realised there were a number of problems.
First, there is a lack of awareness of the challenges of long-term caregiving, even among healthcare professionals themselves. “How was it that we were so ill-equipped to deal with this? That’s when I realised it is a lack of knowledge on how to deal with longterm caregiving,” says Tee.
Accessibility was another hurdle. For Tee personally, the search for suitable caregivers and to match them to the individual needs of her family members was difficult and required quite a lot of legwork. Her own rather frustrating search led her to think about a platform that would be tech-driven and solve this problem.
“I thought, why not do something that would mobilise caregivers? My own experiences trying to look for suitable caregiving made me realise the pain points. There was very little technology utilised in this area that would make the process better and easier,” she says.
Homage uses technology to power a match between caregiver and care recipient, tracking over 80 different data points to form a “care profile”, effectively curating the most suitable caregiver for the recipient based on need.
“It’s a deep realisation that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Caregiving truly needs to be personalised. For example, the best caregiver for my auntie will not be the best caregiver for my uncle,” she says. “The problem is you cannot just ‘throw anyone over the fence’ (to be a caregiver). There needs to be a match of competency and ability. Each care recipient’s needs must be triaged and assessed, and this needs to translate into the care they receive.”
For Tee, her driving force is the way she has seen how caregivers selflessly choose their profession.
“Caregivers are such strong, diverse and unique people with their own goals, but they have deliberately chosen this path in their lives. When I meet them and talk to them, they have such strong internal cores, driven by something so inward. They are compelled to do it — they know it’s tough, but there is this motivation within them to become a caregiver,” she says.
A big part of what Homage does, and the meaning of Homage, says Tee, is attributed to the caregivers themselves. “In many ways, we’re just enabling them to do what they already do, which is to give care to people. We just try to be a conduit, we try our best but they are the ones truly making the impact, being the ones who take care of people.” “We just help professionalise what they do, help them retain sustainable income and help raise the profile of caregiving as a profession with dignity,” she adds.