[UpClose] Here’s how Onco.com is gearing up to become India’s one-stop destination for cancer treatment
Often, it has been noticed that when a customer knows enough to ask the right questions, the system automatically becomes fairer. Cancer treatment is one such field in India – in desperate need of a comprehensive solution that can revolutionise the system and mend the broken chain, enabling affordable treatment for patients beyond metros and Tier I cities.
In this episode of UpClose, watch Onco.com’s co-founders Dr Amit Jotwani and Rashie Jain explain how their platform is fixing India’s skewed cancer treatment and care.
Founded in 2017, Onco.com is an online platform that helps cancer patients get scientific treatment advice as per the latest international guidelines through its network of world-class oncologists in the US and India. Based in Bengaluru, the healthcare marketplace is aimed at helping people navigate through the tough and traumatic experience.
Globally, around 17 million new cases of cancer were reported in 2018, as per cancerresearchuk.org. These figures are equally abysmal in India, with an estimated 2.25 million people reported to be living with the disease, which has resulted in the death of 7,84,821 individuals, according to cancerindia.org.
While the total number of cancer cases are fewer in India, as compared to the West; Onco.com suggests that the country still reels from an alarmingly high death rate. A variety of factors are believed to be responsible for this, including a shocking oncologist to patient ratio, lack of treatment facilities, and most importantly, access to the right information.
Three-year-old Onco.com has set out to bridge this very gap, making treatment-related information available at your fingertips. And in the process, putting empowered consumers in a power of position – an aspect that the founders believe is often missing in the healthcare industry.
Mending the broken chain
For every 100 patients in the US and European countries, there is one oncologist. In India, Amit says, this ratio is quite skewed, with one oncologist for every 2,000 patients.
“We are at a fraction of what we see in the US or European countries,” says Amit, “so that problem cannot be solved overnight by getting more doctors suddenly. It would take more than 20 to 25 years to get that number of doctors. And by that time, the number of cancer patients would also increase manifold.”
A senior radiation oncologist with over 12 years of experience, Amit explains that in addition to the problematic oncologist-patient ratio, there is also the issue of patients being on the wrong track with regards to diagnosis, and even treatment.
A study by Onco.com found that around 40 percent of cancer patients did not have the complete set of tests done. Another 15 percent were believed to be on a wrong treatment path. The challenge here is that, without proper tests, it’s difficult to assess the disease, which in turn, makes it difficult to administer the right treatment.
Amit attributes these shortcomings to the system or its lack thereof. Sometimes, the challenge is the lack of a multidisciplinary approach, and at other times, it is affordability.
“We are trying to bridge these gaps, by at least guiding them on the right treatment path,” says the Co-founder, adding that ensuring the right treatment ensures cost-effectiveness. “We are adding value to the money spent by patients so that they get the right treatment.”
Becoming the one-stop destination for cancer treatment
Globally, as well as in India, several startups and doctors-on-demand platforms are helping millions of people fight against cancer. While tech-first healthtech players like Niramai, Alndra Systems, and UE Lifesciences are focussing on the diagnostic and preventative side of the battle, Onco.com is looking into the treatment, information and access, and the care management support.
As the duo behind the healthtech startup puts it, cancer is a complex condition. It requires multidisciplinary care, involving surgical speciality, radiation oncology, chemotherapies, and other targeted therapies. All of which is being addressed by Onco.com with its 360-degree approach.
In the three years since its inception, the platform has built a network of oncologists from India and the US, making their expert opinions available to cancer patients across the world, especially in the middle-income countries. The team followed this up with Onco Connect Services, wherein they provide personalised recommendations on the right oncologists and even connect patients with doctors.
“Over time, we realised that there's a third problem that cancer patients face,” continues Rashie, letting us in on the third leg of the platform, which is aimed at becoming the one-stop destination for cancer care and treatment in India – Onco Care Management.
After two-three years of a tumultuous experience, says the co-founder, cancer patients and even their family members need a support system to reach out to and get answers to their queries and questions in the aftermath of the disease. This is where Onco Care Management comes in, mapping users to a care manager, who becomes a single contact point for the patients for an umbrella of services.
Expansion and growth
The fight against cancer is one long and lone battle. Even as technology and healthcare join forces to address the gaps in this domain, there remains the need for a comprehensive solution to really tackle the disease – and the various challenges surrounding it – head-on.
With its algorithms and other tech-powered solutions, Onco.com – that has served more than one lakh patients till date – has been addressing these concerns. Every month, more than 10,000 patients register themselves on the platform, of which a great majority are from India.
Amit adds, “A lot of patients also come from other countries like the Middle East, Africa, and surrounding South Asian countries.” In total, patients from at least 18 countries have used Onco.com’s services, the co-founder claims.
The cancer care aggregator raised its Series A funding of $7 million led by Accel Partners, Chiratae Ventures, and Dream Incubator.
The startup has also made headways with its virtual tumour boards. As a part of this service, Onco.com has built a multi-disciplinary panel of global specialists for patients to get collaborative and relevant advice as per the latest scientific advancements for their cancer treatment.
Tumour board services, which used to take around five days to turnaround, can now be done in three days.
“Within three days now, a patient can get a detailed opinion about their treatment options, and the expected outcomes and prognosis,” adds Amit.
Practical advice and emotional support – forging a community
Cancer cannot be taken lightly. But with its new algorithms and an extensive network of oncologists, Onco.com has certainly made it simple for patients to input just a few details about their condition to get a detailed treatment plan.
The one thing that sets Amit and Rashie’s healthcare solution apart from the hoard of other players in the market is their efforts towards building a community and creating a support system for cancer survivors.
“We realised that a lot of cancer patients and their families go about this extremely complex, extremely chaotic experience on their own,” says Rashie. The situation is particularly grim in India, given how most people still consider it a tabooed topic, withholding themselves from opening up about their cancer battle.
For this increasing population of cancer-affected people, Onco.com is forging a community comprising cancer patients, survivors, and family members.
“Today we have 6,000 patients from around the world who are a part of this active community. We also started something called Talk Your Heart Out, which is an offline event,” says Rashie. As part of this event, she explains, the team invites cancer patients and survivors to share their stories and provide a platform for even those seeking emotional support or practical advice.
This community-building effort is something that the startup takes great pride in. Even as the team plans to expand its outreach in India, Africa, and the Middle East to bring cutting edge technology to automate the entire process, establishing a support system for cancer survivors will play a major role in fixing the broken chain of wholesome cancer care.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)