There comes a time when, after working in corporate for 15 years, the mind wants to take a break. Husband-wife duo Bhupendra Chopra and Samidha Garud had to find a way to give back to society to make their lives more meaningful. In 2014, the duo went on to build technology for NGOs operating in the rural hinterland of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. While working in the field with Accredited Social Healthcare Activist (ASHA) workers, mid-wives who travelled to the remotest villages to help pregnant women and people suffering from ailments, the duo realised that there was an opportunity for technology to play a major role in recording birthing information.
A chance meeting, with a local politician, helped them gain support to roll out a technology pilot where tablets, given to 50 ASHA workers, used an app built by them. The app records medical information about pregnant women and videos that could explain the dos and don’ts of pregnancy. The duo realised that the business of information captured with software-as-a-service was an opportunity to be cracked.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), India’s infant mortality rate is very high. The mortality rate is approximately 39 per 1,000 births in India, whereas in USA and China it is 8 and 16 per 1,000 births, respectively. Indian women give birth to 25 million babies a year, but there are only 30,000 gynaecologists in this country and there is no date being collected or stored anywhere. In the USA, there are 21,749 gynaecologists handling 3.8 million births every year.
Therefore, on an average, a doctor should handle 833 births per year, which means they have to manage three births per day and meet new patients at the same time. Thus, by managing records, for both patients and doctors, the hospital can increase productivity and better delivery of care. “There is no live data in the system,” says Samidha Garud, Founder of Doc N Me. She adds that sometimes doctors receive so many calls that they practically have no idea of a patient’s condition till they see the paper medical history, which the patient carries to the hospital
Here’s why it’s important
At The Birth Place birthing centre, a small 25-bed birthing hospital in Hyderabad, there are more than 500 patients visiting the centre every day. The hospital manages 80 deliveries every month. However, Dr Pratibha Narayan, consulting doctor at Birth Place, wants data of the patient to be available on a real-time basis. “Today, we struggle through phone calls and sometimes patient data becomes crucial to know what the medical condition is,” she says. Pratibha adds that this app has gone a step ahead of other software, like appointment and scheduling apps, because she can type the patient’s name on the app and she can advise the patient regardless of her location. Doc N Me, a women-centric healthcare app, also allows the patient to port the data to another doctor if she leaves the current city.
Another gynaecologist, Dr Sai Sudha, who worked in the UK for nine years, says that Indian businesses making apps for healthcare services had leap frogged technology of the West. “All my prescriptions and observations are available on the go and it reduces the time taken to treat a patient,” says Dr Sai Sudha, who owns Sri Sai Sudha Women's Health Clinic.
The app is also a guide for pregnant women and is like a diary to prepare them for the arrival of the child. It contains content and connects the patient directly with the doctor. The app also doubles up as a reminder for appointments and captures the history, of the care, in the cloud. With this, women need not worry about losing their scans and prescriptions. However, the doctor still writes the prescription on a paper, which can be converted to digital information by taking a photo of the prescription and uploading it on the app. But some centres send emails to patients, especially lab reports, which Doc N Me collects and stores on behalf of the customer and the doctor.
The business model
Doc N Me, which started a year ago, currently charges doctors a subscription fee. The app is available for free to consumers. But as the content in the app grows, the founders say that customers will be charged a subscription fee. Currently, the business has moved out of the idea stage and is in the process of acquiring doctors. The pilot was done with 15 gynaecologists and served over 2,000 customers in six months. Bhupendra and Samidha have invested Rs 54 lakhs of their own money so far to validate the idea.
There are several businesses cropping up in the healthcare sector and some are well-established today. Practo, the doctor appointment and discovery business, has raised $125 million in VC funding, so far. This Bengaluru-based company has acquired four companies last year. Portea, a Bengaluru-based company, connects post-care therapy experts to patients and has raise $50 million in funding. Attune Technologies, which provides software to clinics, is perhaps the closest competitor to Doc N Me. Nevertheless the opportunities are huge in Indian healthcare sector.
According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, the healthcare industry will hit $170 billion by 2017. Gynaecology alone presents a big opportunity with 25 million births in India. Hospital chains will soon need to look at technology innovations to connect with the millennial generation. “Healthcare should move beyond discovery and create data that can help care providers,” says Sarath Naru, Managing Partner at VentureEast.
Finally, the success of technology businesses in healthcare depends on how doctors and patients interact. There isn’t such an example, as yet. But at least data collection will happen because Indian Healthcare does not have robust data to improve services. For now startups like Doc N Me businesses will be able to scale up to change healthcare delivery in India.