How the hospitalisation of ex-AT&T exec’s father led him to revolutionising corporate healthcare in India
Kiran Kalakuntla was living and working in the US when his father, back home in Hyderabad, had to be admitted to the hospital for surgery. Some thousand miles away, an already worried and anxious Kiran was pushed further into the pits of helpless despair when, despite trying as hard as he could, he failed to get any accurate updates from his father’s surgeons.
That wasn’t the first time he’d experienced something like this though — because of India’s fragmented healthcare system and a lack of a centralised repository of health reports and medical updates, Kiran often found himself scrambling to get a correct read on his parents’ health. Even small things like monitoring their vitals, reminding them to take their medication on time, or predicting ailments before they struck became tough.
“Healthcare is a natural must-have, but the technology currently used in India is woefully outdated. I wanted to build a global platform for the future of healthcare, which is going to be predictive and preventive at its core,” he tells YourStory.
And that is how ekincare was born.
In its initial form, ekincare was a remote health monitoring platform for non-resident Indians to keep track of their parents’ health. It used artificial intelligence and data points to predict any health-related changes, flagged them to the user’s family members, and also came up with intelligent solutions to minimise any health risks.
The platform not only helped people mitigate any risks to their health by actively suggesting AI-driven palliative therapies, but also resulted in cost savings by cutting down on doctor visits and medication expenses.
That gave Kiran the idea of expanding it to cover the corporate sector, which, at that point, was spending nearly $4 billion, every year, on employee health benefits without even knowing if it fits the needs and requirements of those covered under the group insurance policies.
He set up ekincare in 2014, along with Srikanth Samudrala, an IIT-Madras graduate who had worked with Barclays and HSBC, and Dr Noel Coutinho, a doctor with a graduate degree from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who has 20-plus years of experience in the insurance industry in building and commercialising health insurance products.
Hacking healthcare spend
Kiran theorised that by accumulating health-related data points for a large group of people — as in a corporate — ekincare could optimise companies’ healthcare spend.
For example, if ekincare’s data, accumulated over a few years, tells it that Company X’s employees are 20 percent less likely to fall sick than the larger set of the population the insurance issuer is taking into consideration, the startup can negotiate policy prices on behalf of Company X and help lower them.
Using AI and going by every employee’s medical history to discern patterns, ekincare helps the individual take prophylactic measures. It also records these individual data points and tries to make a predictive analysis of the group at large to understand if there’s anything that could cause more people to fall sick.
If that raises any red flags, the interface quickly alerts the company’s management or human resources team to take preventative measures and initiate programmes that could help employees tackle those ailments — thereby deterring any loss of productivity due to absenteeism.
The startup started the corporate wellness programme with just two companies in late 2017, and met with tremendous success. Now, it manages over one million-plus employed from 300 corporates, including BlackRock, eBay, LinkedIn, S&P Global, Rakuten, AbInBev, CGI, and Fidelity on the platform.
“The core of ekincare’s early success was extensive testing of all our products with a sample group, taking feedback from the group and working on the products for continuous improvements,” Kiran says.
“We’ve been successful in capturing high household income users at a very low cost per acquisition of Rs 20 per user,” he adds.
The Hyderabad-based startup has helped corporates save 450,000 hours, cumulatively, in productivity for employees, and Rs 7 crore in healthcare expenditure. It has seen more than two million transactions over the past months, and has grown nearly 50 percent month on month.
Products and revenue
Apart from insurance, which it provides via third-party operators (examples of which would include ICICI Lombard, HDFC ERGO, Apollo Munich etc), ekincare offers an array of health and wellness-related products.
These services, which the corporate pays for separately, and on top of the insurance expenses, include health checks, e-pharmacies, access to gyms and fitness centres, telemedicine, mental health wellness, dental and vision checkups, built-in medical rooms, and, more recently, COVID-19 testing and vaccination services.
Records of any medical consults done via ekincare, as well as availing of ancillary services such as gyms, vision checkups etc, are stored on the app, and are viewable only by the employee whose data it is.
Companies that already have health insurance can also choose to buy just the services too, as part of the benefits they offer their employees.
“Our vision is to create a preventive, predictive, and highly personalised healthcare journey for professionals to help them adopt a healthier lifestyle, and empower the firms with relevant data and technology to reduce the overall health risks of their employees across the board,” Kiran quips.
The startup has been earning $1.9 million in annual revenue according to Owler, a crowdsourced company data website. It has raised $5.7 million in funding over four rounds, Crunchbase said.
Its latest series A round for $3.5 million saw participation from Eight Roads, Ventureast, Siana Capital, and Touchstone Equities.
A recent Redseer report showed that only 15 percent of the country’s workforce was covered by health and wellness programs — a market that’s currently worth Rs 55,000 crore. Ekincare’s competitors include MediBuddy, HealthifyMe, Truworth Wellness, and Stepathlon, among others.
“With COVID-19 showing gaps in employee wellbeing programmes across India Inc, health benefits are now a key focus instead of being a cost centre alone, where nine in 10 companies are sponsoring COVID vaccinations for their employees and families,” Kiran says.