In the late 1990’s, a demographic study revealed two key aspects of the healthcare sector that motivated the founders to set up FriendlyCare. First was the population growth rate which remained high over the past 30 years. Second, the study indicated that the majority of Filipinos who needed health care had limited and rather extreme alternatives: they could go either to expensive medical specialists or to generally overcrowded government health centers.
Further focus group discussions revealed, however, that those who went to government centers were dissatisfied due to several reasons. The discussions cited the lack of doctors and that the customers doubted their competence. Two, many customers felt discriminated against or were rudely dealt with by the medical staff. Three, there were also instances when government centers showed preferential treatment to those with power or clout compared with the ordinary customer.
Significantly, the study showed that more than half of those who went to government health centers had some capacity to pay and were in fact, willing to pay provided that they could get courteous, competent, and more affordable service. This was the niche the founders identified and built the concept of FriendlyCare on.
Thus, with a market in mind and specific services to offer, the founders’ next step was to secure funding for the proposed healthcare facility. The group then approached a foreign donor agency and presented a unique business model on how to offer family planning services in a viable manner.
In 1999, FriendlyCare Foundation opened its executive and administrative offices, and in February 2000, opened its Masinag clinic. The company’s mission was “to improve the quality of life of the most number of people by providing affordable and quality reproductive and family healthcare services in a friendly and compassionate manner.” Ultimately, its vision was to develop “a network of private health facilities providing reproductive and family healthcare services to support healthy, well-planned families of modest means in achieving their full human potential.” Nine other clinics were established in the cities of Mandaluyong, Quezon City, Pasig, Cebu City, Davao, and other densely populated areas.
One of FriendlyCare’s achievements in family planning was getting Philhealth to include family planning surgeries as part of its reimbursable benefit package. Eventually, FriendlyCare became the leading private provider of surgical contraception. In the entire national capital region (NCR), its Shaw clinic performed as much as the combined procedures done in six government hospitals in the same catchment areas (i.e. based on an informal survey done in 2003 to 2004). Moreover, Philhealth indicated that FriendlyCare accounted for 10 percent of its total surgical sterilization reimbursements in the NCR and 70 percent of total reimbursements in Mandaluyong and Pasig City.
Over the years, FriendlyCare went through transitions as to “who they were” as an organization. When the clinics were opened, the press billed the organization as the “Jollibee” (the biggest fast food chain in the Philippines) of health. Its family planning mission was kept low key, until a bolder campaign was launched, with the caption, “Family planning, Family health” underneath its clinic signs. Swinging to the other side, many thought that the organization offered only family planning. Eventually, a strategic review done by the FriendlyCare board elicited a clearer definition of its family planning mission in the context of general health and established the role of health services as a mechanism for sustainability as well.
After FriendlyCare’s six years of association with the foreign donor agency, however, worldwide strategic changes within the donor agency shifted focus away from family planning. Subsequently, this resulted in the untimely exit from FriendlyCare in 2005.
In the last 7 years, the company has gone through several transformations. First, four clinics were closed and one was relocated. Second, the target segment was expanded to include corporate accounts. Third, the medical equipment was upgraded and the company invested in diagnostic and test machines. Finally, new products were developed to attract the higher paying segment and independent businessman and small companies who could not afford Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO).
Nowadays, the FriendlyCare brand is synonymous to health excellence and sustainability. Since 2010, the company has been self-sufficient and family planning has become one of its most successful services. The company’s work in family planning has been recently recognized by the DOH, who asked other institutions to follow FriendlyCare’s example of providing more health services for women.