Altibbi: A Website in Good Health

Altibbi has risen from modest beginnings to become the region’s number one health website.

By Jane Hosking

The origins of Altibbi can be traced back to a hefty medical dictionary sitting on a shelf in the Amman office of Jalil Allabadi, the managing partner of the hugely popular Arabic-language health website. The content of the reference book, which was painstakingly collated over two decades by Allabadi’s physician father, forms the basis of the online medical information portal that’s receiving around 5 million hits a month.

Websites like Altibbi are successfully tapping into our growing desire for medical advice in an increasingly health conscious age. The UK’s NHS Choices, for instance, has racked up 1 billion visitors since its launch in 2007. But Altibbi has carved out a niche for itself by serving Arabic speakers, who until recently could only consult English-language websites. Allabadi’s father Abdel Aziz, recognized this years ago, which inspired him to write the medical dictionary that remains the backbone of Altibbi until today.

As a surgeon who studied in Germany, he recognized that many doctors are trained in other languages and therefore felt there was a need to educate doctors in Arabic medical terms to benefit their patients. “When he came back to the region he worked primarily in refugee camps and he found there was a lack of knowledge and information about medical issues by the population in the whole Arab region,” said Allabadi.

Building on the Book

When the book was published in 2004, Allabadi’s father used it to push for the Arabization of the medical field in the region. Commercially the dictionary was not viable but his father strongly believed in disseminating knowledge that would help people understand health issues better. “He distributed several thousand within a couple of months, giving them out for free,” said Allabadi.

It wasn’t until Allabadi launched a website with his cousin in 2008 containing the contents of his father’s book that they began to realize its true potential. With no other place on the Internet to go to for comprehensive Arabic medical information, even as a static webpage it began attracting a significant amount of traffic. The webpage soon became Allabadi’s MBA university project, and after the encouragement of his professor it was launched as a fully-fledged company in 2009.

Today, the company has 22 employees working across its founding office in Amman, and its second base which it recently launched in Dubai. Altibbi has also expanded its reach by developing six health apps, including a symptoms checker. This, Allabadi explained, has allowed his company to adapt to the shift of Internet users from PCs to mobile phone devices, which now make up 72 percent of their traffic. Their app success was recognized in October, with Altibbi being one of the winners of the prestigious WSA Mobile Content awards in the category for best environment and health app.

Allabadi explained that at the beginning they thought that Altibbi might be able to generate a little revenue through paid advertisements accompanying their content. But they soon saw that a shift in business model would deliver both a better service to the website users and would also see the business grow into something bigger. “It was first built around the content and was more about doctors,” said Allabadi, adding that they then discovered the value of building a network around the content for patients and doctors to connect. “Now we are focusing less on advertising and more on creating value through a premium service,” he said, noting that 95 percent of the website remains free. The success of this model has now begun to attract investment, which Allabadi hopes to see the company grow even further.

Connecting with Doctors

Altibbi isn’t only benefiting eager patients around the region who now have an easy means of obtaining medical information in their native language, but it is also proving a valuable tool for doctors. “Altibbi drives traffic to doctors,” said Allabadi, adding that this includes both virtual traffic and physical traffic to their offices.

One of the main features of the website allows users to put questions to the 3,000 active doctors on the network—70 percent of whom are based in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Via Altibbi, these doctors, who are verified practitioners, have answered over 175,000 questions in the last two years. This service has proven hugely popular, with the questions and their answers having more than 30 million unique visits. The tool has likewise served doctors well by attracting many potential patients to their social-network-like profile page where they can view their details to make an appointment.

Any doctor from the region can register on Altibbi, but with the popularity of the site they may have to wait a little while before they join the network of doctors. There are currently another 3,000 doctors from the region waiting to be verified and approved by Altibbi who take their quality control very seriously. With the health of people in their hands, they work to ensure that all doctors are legitimate medical practitioners who must follow the company’s strict user guidelines. Altibbi also have a team of clinical pharmacists monitoring and editing the answers of doctors to ensure that whatever is added to the website can be trusted.

In addition to this team, Allabadi continues to rely on the medical expertise of his father who, now retired, acts as Altibbi’s unofficial content editor. Allabadi explained that the website has expanded on the book’s 15,000 medical terms and now contains over 75,000. While his father was hesitant at first to see the content go online, he soon changed his mind after seeing how his life’s work could reach more people via the website than was possible with the book alone. “Now he is much more excited,” said Allabadi, who shared that they hope to continue expanding Altibbi to provide easy to access medical information for people in the region. “We want to reach many more doctors and patients and get them engaged.”