How SoftBank wants to replicate the success of Ping An in India with PolicyBazaar’s Docprime
In June 2018, PolicyBazaar made headlines when it raised more than $200 million from the SoftBank Vision Fund. This was no ordinary funding, for with it, SoftBank led the creation of a new telemedicine venture based on a tried-and-tested model in China – that of Ping An.
According to media reports, the SoftBank Vision Fund had led a billion-dollar-plus funding round in Ping An Insurance Group, China’s biggest private insurer, last year. A part of the funds were routed towards the pre-IPO financing of Ping An Good Doctor, an online-to-offline healthcare servicing platform.
Once it received the funding, PolicyBazaar’s parent company, EtechAces Marketing and Consulting, launched its own online-to-offline healthcare venture, Docprime, in August 2018. We take a look at its plans to replicate - or even surpass - this success in India.
Docprime currently has two main verticals – online doctor consultations, and clinic management, which includes digitising of medical records – both fashioned on the Ping An model. In fact, Docprime insiders say that before it was launched, teams from PolicyBazaar and Ping An held several meetings to understand the model and how it could be replicated in India.
A business model from another country and implemented in India has little likelihood of succeeding without localisation. Affirming this, Ashish Gupta, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Docprime and former Chief Technology Officer of PolicyBazaar, says the Indian healthcare market is very fragmented and decision-making is extremely hyperlocal.
“Docprime aims to disrupt the existing model by giving customers choice, and creating an ecosystem play where participants will play on their strengths.”
Changing the norms in telemedicine
Docprime’s B2B division - management of clinics - continues to hold high strategic value for the business. The platform, currently, is essentially a queue management system and, Ashish says, will remain so this quarter (ending March 2019). In coming quarters, it is expected to evolve as a complete management system with digitisation of customers’ records.
“Currently, the incentive for the doctor to digitise records is missing,” says Ashish on why Docprime sees this vertical taking time to pick up. He claims customer feedback will soon form the incentive to push healthcare professionals to digitisation.
Ashish believes the queue management system brings instant value to the customer. “Today, a health check-up takes close to four hours. Through queue management, we can bring this time down to 30 minutes to finish the process.” Which means hospitals will be able to process more customers with no extra capex.
Ashish says Docprime is also experimenting with the digitisation process. This means that an operator, while sending a report to print, would have the option to send it to a physical printer and simultaneously to the Docprime ‘printer’, which essentially saves the report to the cloud and can be accessed later.
There are several startups already working on digitising medical records such as PolyClinic and DRiefcase. Ashish says post digitisation of records, clinics will be able to follow up and recommend visits using the Docprime platform, making healthcare a multi-transactional process, as against the popular notion of it being a single transaction entity.
Docprime is aggressively pushing its online consultation operations as well. While this space has quite a bit of competition in India, with the likes of Practo, Lybrate, DocsApp, and mfine fighting for a share of the market, Docprime says it is differentiating itself by making online consultations free for customers.
Ashish says the venture is positioning online consultations as a ‘free family doctor’.
“We want to ensure that customers have a platform to check, in case they have a question related to their health. The fact that it is free and needs no physical visits will lead to adherence and stickiness of customers.”
Ping An’s Good Doctor too offers online consultations and hospital referrals as ‘family doctor’ services. These services on Ping An also include an AI-assisted in-house medical team, which Docprime is working on.
Leveraging contractual doctors
Ashish says Docprime has 100 doctors on contract; they are assisted by AI-powered engines to provide faster and seamless consultations. Indian healthcare startups, on the other hand, have typically leveraged a marketplace construct and get external doctors to consult online.
“We realised that the minute a platform gets external doctors or a marketplace, they aren’t disrupting the space since these professionals will not understand how a bot works. That needs a lot of training, and every doctor will use the app differently. Further, the cost of servicing a customer will never come down unless they squeeze the doctor to charge less,” says Ashish on why Docprime chose not to follow this model.
By limiting the number of professionals they have on contract, Docprime can control costs. The company plans to cap the total number of doctors on contract to 100. At present, the cost of consultation is less than Rs 100, and is expected to reduce to under Rs 30, says Ashish. For February, the firm claimed it had close to one million unique visitors, and also launched its consumer-facing app.
NLP and AI paving the way
Like Ping An’s healthcare vertical, Docprime is also leveraging AI and Natural Language Processing in a big way.
Once a customer starts a chat and provides details about an ailment, Docprime’s NLP engine identifies the problem and seeks more details from the customer while performing a basic analysis of symptoms. Following this, the list of symptoms is sent to the doctor, who can then consult with the patient.
Ashish says that for some common ailments, a prescription can be automatically populated and sent to the customer with final checks from the doctor. At any stage, the doctor may ask more questions, modify prescriptions, or even request the patient to consult a specialist.
In China, Ping An Good Doctor is even working on unstaffed clinics that employ artificial intelligence (AI). Calling it AI Doctor, the setup’s role is to gather medical history and come up with a diagnosis plan, which is then passed on to a specialist consultant.
At present, close to 40 percent of the messages on Docprime’s online consult are automated, generated by a bot. By July, the platform aims to make 80 percent of these messages automated.
Ashish adds that as online consultations grow, these will lead into an increase in physical appointments with doctors too. He believes that every third or fourth online consultation could lead to a physical appointment.
The company states that once NLP and AI algorithms reach that maturity, newer use cases, including follow-ups, refills of medications, and others functions can be auto-triggered. Ashish also claims that the NLP might even recommend questions to doctors during a consultation, which may make the process even more seamless.
Hyderabad-based eKincare and Bengaluru-based mfine are also leveraging AI and ML to guide users.
Bringing ‘choice’ to healthcare
Docprime also received an internal funding of $50 million from parent PolicyBazaar Group in September, and also takes on learnings from the latter.
It has so far focussed on its backend infrastructure, and on scaling the network of doctors and healthcare providers on its platform. At present, it claims to have a network of 25,000 doctors from 250 hospitals and 9,000 clinics, as well as 5,000 labs across 34 cities in the country on the platform.
Ashish says the platform is also onboarding close to 100 doctors every day for physical consultations. And learning from PolicyBazaar, it is also looking to rope in larger healthcare providers.
“PolicyBazaar, as a philosophy, has always believed that the best brands have to come onboard,” says Ashish.
He adds that some are in the final stages of being onboarded. This quarter, the platform is expected to onboard four to five big healthcare chains along with seven brand specialties, he adds.
Ashish also says that at present, Docprime is not looking to launch its own branded products and will instead let doctors and healthcare service providers deliver their expertise on the platform. “To have our own products will be counterproductive to the ecosystem,” he adds.
While online consultations are gaining ground, physical bookings still form the core of Docprime’s revenues. The company is looking to tap three active revenue streams, including retail physical bookings, corporate packages, and annual subscription packages.
According to Ashish, the average ticket size for a physical consultation is at Rs 500 including tests, and an annual subscription model is expected to be launched in May this year. This is again modelled on Ping An’s healthcare division. The subscription product will cover for consultations and tests and will be capped at a certain amount. Says Ashish,
“Through a subscription product, we aim to make India a proactive rather than a reactive healthcare market. And once we can drive volumes, the cost of healthcare in the country can come down. Today, reactive healthcare is the entire story.”
On the corporate side, Docprime has been piloting with a few mid-scale companies. It is also looking at medical tourism as a key revenue stream, where ticket sizes are much higher. The company is also already scouting for acquisitions in this segment.
While Docprime has been following in the footsteps of Ping An Good Doctor, it will be interesting to see if it follows its Indian contemporaries and enter into models such as online medical stores, retailing personal care products and medicine deliveries.
And lastly, it remains to be seen if Docprime will foray into wellness programmes (or preventive healthcare), key to the Ping An Good Doctor model.
This isn’t the first time that SoftBank has taken a note from its Chinese playbook to play in India. Payments ‘unicorn’ Paytm is one of the biggest examples, often confronted on replaying the Alibaba-model.