Successful Startups in Digital Health
Indian healthcare is slowly changing and a new tribe of entrepreneurs are changing the old ways of doing business in the country. Healthcare Executive brings you some of the biggest digital healthcare startups in the Indian healthcare sectors which have grabbed eyeballs.
Today’s rapidly burgeoning healthcare startups all share one thing in common: a technological approach to solve a healthcare problem. Employing new ways of thinking, these startups have created value in the healthcare chain, using limited resources. Similarly,the entrepreneurship ecosystems in premier technical institutes and cities are driving innovation as well as energy for the sector.
Further, the barrier to entry in the health sector has been greatly reduced. The smartphone revolution has also created an unparalleled level of opportunity for entrepreneurs. For instance, according to Venture Capital Database CBinsights, digital healthcare startups attracted $5.8 billion in 2015. But there is always some struggle and nothing is absolute in the health sector. Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur or experienced CXO, here are some honest answers from health-tech entrepreneurs about navigating the turbulent Indian digital healthcare space.
Imagine being able to take your doctor wherever you go, interact with him/her via your smartphone, with everything related to your care available online. This and much more is what founders of Lybrate are trying to achieve. Prior to incepting Lybrate, Saurabh Arora, founder and CEO of Lybrate was working with Facebook as a Data Scientist in the US, while Rahul Narang, the Co-founder & CTO of the company, was associated with Snapdeal.
Creative Value Proposition
What does Lybrate do and why do multiple media platforms write about it? Lybrate is an online doctor consultation platform that aims at solving the core problem of the Indian healthcare delivery system, which is inaccessibility of doctors owing to huge doctor shortage problem in the country.
The platform allows users to communicate seamlessly and conveniently with doctors online from anywhere, anytime and makes this possible in a scenario where scarcity of healthcare experts is a major issue by multiplying the presence of doctors through technology and expand their reach to anyone in any part of the country. Something which was unthinkable in India few years ago as doctors used to be confined to their own geographical boundary.
Using Lybrate platform, users can talk with over 100,000 ‘trusted’ doctors from more than 80 cities via text, voice and video. According to the founders, Lybrate is the only platform that encapsulates all the three forms of communication, making it useful for both doctors and users to connect smoothly.
The company recently ventured into labs and launched India’s first integrated healthcare solution Lybrate Lab+. The platform enables users to consult doctors online, get suggested lab tests done without any hassles of stepping out and continue consultation upon automatic sharing of reports with healthcare experts, without breaking the loop of doctor consultation.
Saurabh Arora, founder of Lybrate shares what prompted the company to explore online consultation. “The one line that defines Lybrate is ‘Communicate with the doctor from anywhere, anytime.” I was working with Facebook in the US and on a yearly visit to India when on one fine day I happened to be at a pharmacy. To my surprise, I saw people coming to the pharmacist without a prescription and let him advice medicines for their health problems, eventually making him don the role of a doctor without the requisite expertise in the field. This behaviour of people made me dig deeper into the reasons for ignoring to visit doctors and expose themselves to severe health risks. I noticed distinct reasons for the same in metros and non-metros. While people in metros had time constraints due to hassles of busy schedules, those in non-metros faced genuine issues because of non-availability of quality doctors and specialists. What added to the woes was the huge doctor shortage in the country, which turned out to be the core problem of healthcare delivery in the country. At Facebook, I connected SMEs and large advertisers to their customers using Facebook Ads and thought to create a platform that could connect users with any doctor in India much in the same way, allowing both the entities to communicate with each other and ultimately solve the real problem that plagued the Indian healthcare system. This finally led me to incept Lybrate in 2014,” explains Arora.
Today, the platform has broken the belief of one-zone practice of doctors , expanding their reach with the innovative use of technology. Users can choose from Lybrate’s network of 100,000 doctors from 80 cities, and communicate with them about their health issues.
To understand how is Lybrate different; it is pertinent to understand the patient health cycle perspective.
There are five stages that a patient may go through when there is any health issue: (Fig.1)
“Lybrate is focused on easing communication between patients and doctors, i.e., second and fifth stage of patient health cycle and also offers services in stage 3. During this process of patient health cycle, we also are able to assist patients in stage 1,” adds Arora.
He also notes that they believe that fixing India’s healthcare problem lies in a communication platform that is able to multiply the presence of doctors. “By letting doctor and patients to communicate from anywhere, anytime, Lybrate is solving the biggest issue the country is grappling with on the healthcare front,” adds Arora.
How do they Reach out to Customers?
Telemedicine market in India is expected to grow to $18.7 million by 2017, according to data quoted by the Indian Equity Foundation Report. The whole market is fragmented and in its very early stage, so the scope of market growth is huge. Internet penetration to tier 2 and 3 cities, growing adoption of smartphones and awareness about telemedicine will drive the growth of digital healthcare in India. The challenges facing the space are internet penetration and little awareness about online doctor consultation.
Lybrate does a lot of marketing initiatives, both offline and online, to reach out to their target audience – who are users and doctors. Apart from this, word of mouth, on which they banked on initially, is still one of the main drivers to spread knowledge about Lybrate. Lybrate also has in place a strong field sales team to bring on board doctors, who are the pillars of the platform. Today, it has more than 100,000 doctors on the platform and the app has been downloaded more than 3 million times since itslaunch in January 2015.
What’s working well for Lybrate is improving healthcare access and solving the core problem of huge doctor shortage in the country. On Lybrate platform, a person sitting in Jammu could talk to a doctor in Mumbai and get specialised opinion on his health problem. “The patient was highly impressed with the convenience Lybrate provided him in making him talk to a ‘trusted’ doctor, other than saving his time and money that he could have spent on his travel for seeing a doctor. This is the kind of user experience Lybrate platform has created, which was unthinkable,” adds Arora.
Also, the feature of anonymity of identity encourages users to talk even about issues related to sexual and mental health, which they earlier hesitated to discuss considering them taboo subjects.
Besides doctor consultation, Lybrate’s Health Feed is unique which consist of health tips from doctors. It encourages users to stay healthy and fit.
With Lybrate Lab+, Lybrate has introduced an altogether new O3O (online-offline-online) marketplace in healthcare on the lines of existing O2O (online-offline).
Now, users are able to consult doctors (online), get sample pick up for lab test (offline) and get reports automatically shared with doctors and continue consultation (online), thus benefitting from Lybrate’s integrated O3O healthcare solution.
The teamhas also won several accolades within a short span of time. In 2015,Indian Medical Association (IMA) roped in Lybrate as its digital partner. The same year Apple featured the Lybrate app in the The App Store Best of 2015. It was also named as one of world’s 10 Most Innovative Companies in Healthcare by Fast Company this year. Forbes India also placed Lybrate in its 2016 list of 30 under 30.
Arora also talks about company’s financial position then and now.
“Initially, users have a hitch which is natural as many have been only seeing a doctor physically and the concept is new to them. But once they experience the product and the convenience it provides them, the perception changes completely,” adds the CEO.
What’s working really well for users is also the pricing.The platform is very transparent for users. They can check out all the consultation fees of the doctors and also redeem discounts coupons which are offered to them. “Our operations team is prompt to address any issue, in case there is any problem,” concludes Arora.
India is home to second largest number of diabetic patients in the world and there are many more who are not even aware that they are diabetic. The burden of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and CVD is huge on the society. Ironically all these diseases can be prevented if they are diagnosed early.
Innovating on the Value Chain
The problem that eKincare, a healthcare technology startup is tackling is a big one. It enables users to monitor their critical medical information and view it anywhere anytime. Its patent pending technology also gathers medical results from various healthcare providers, updates profiles, and provides a single repository for users to store all their healthcare episodes. It then identifies potential health risks from the data, provides a personalized health plan to beat those risks.
After pursuing Masters in Engineering Management from Duke University, US, Kiran Kalakuntla, CEO and Founder, eKincare joined Alltel (Verizon) as Product Engineer where he designed the strategy and technology road map of the company.
Kiran hit upon the idea of eKincare during his stay in the US. His parents were back in India and had to go through some treatment for which he needed their past records for reference. Kiran found it really difficult to get access to any information on his parent’s health
The episode acted as a trigger in his life. Kiran believes that critical medical information should be easily accessible, anywhere and anyplace. It was with this idea in mind that he decided to start eKincare.
For Kiran, the biggest challenge has been to ensure that the product’s competitive advantage is clearly communicated to customers from time to time, especially at a time when competition from niche players is heating up.“Our endeavour is to make preventive healthcare and healthcare analytics mainstream, through our platform consolidating or tracking one’s health is as easy as taking a selfie . And this is not just an individual user level, we are helping organizations to gain insights to improve their employee health and make their annual health programs more measurable through our analytics,” says Kalakuntla.
Broad Mission and Purpose
Kiran adds, the tagline of the brand is “Assess, track and stay informed about your health”. The other thing is that we have 3 core areas where eKincare focuses to make medical data meaningful.”
“We have always been a company that has said,“let’s solve real problem.” The first thing that we do is consolidating a customer’s family’s medical history. They can access them anywhere, anytime or share with a doctor with a simple click. Second, the focus on the problem is very important and that helps a lot because then people want to use it. eKincare’s proprietary algorithm and process extracts the info from those medical records to assess an individual’s medical condition, spot health risks early and provide a personalized health score. Third, eKincare intelligence provides personalized recommendations for follow-ups – whether be a health check, vaccination, medication, etc., and connects the right service provider at the right time,” explains Kalakuntla.
The startup has presence across India serving over 2000 locations. “In terms of B2B customers, we look at strengthening our presence in – Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune as these are the major metros and most of big corporates are based out of these cities,” adds the founder.
“We do not have a subscription fee. We work on freemium model, where the basic services like hosting one’s medical records are free, the customer needs to pay if they want to avail premium services like scheduling health checks at home, nutrition/ dietician consultation. We are in the process of integrating more services like doctor chat, healthcare at home, etc which will be launched shortly,” explains the founder., adding, “Our B2B solutions are customized as per organization’s need.”
The eKincare team was convinced that going forward,healthcare risk prediction models and wellness index would thrive. Today it’s used by healthcare providers, large corporations for population risk analysis and to define effective disease management programs to lower their healthcare costs. The platform is free for the user with no limits on the data stored and allows multiple family members’ profile management.
Kiran firmly believes that consolidating one’s medical records as a preventive measure requires a significant behavioural change and does not happen overnight. “It takes time to make transition from reactive to preventive thought process when it comes to health; also the reason why health insurance penetration is only 5-6% in India. Healthcare is not an impulse buying process as it requires building a brand and slowly building the trust with the end user. Online banking, buying product online, using credit cards for online purchases were also unheard of several years ago.
“We believe that continuous and committed drive towards education and awareness of the benefits of harnessing medical data as a critical step to staying healthy would help people adopt our platform. We drive brand awareness through campaigns on radio, OOH, social media and also partner with residential societies, IT firms in organising digital health drives at their premises – where the residents/ employees get to experience the platform and its benefits.
“As a long term strategy we look at adding value to the Indian healthcare ecosystem by continuously innovating our product offerings, collaborating with like minded healthcare companies and providing a solution to the health related concerns of people in India,” adds Kalakunthala.
Emotionally startups are very tough for the founders. Kiran shares the roller coaster ride. “It was a challenge in terms of scaling up, as consolidating one’s medical records. It takes time to make transition from reactive to preventive thought process when it comes to health; also the reason why health insurance penetration is only 5-6 percent in India. Healthcare is not an impulse buying process as it requires building a brand and slowly building the trust with the end user. Online banking, buying product online, using credit cards for online purchases were also unheard of several years ago,” adds Kalakuntla.
Is the market big enough for a new venture to scale up without bumping too many without competition?
“We at eKincare are committed and confident of our long term strategy in adding value to the Indian Healthcare ecosystem by continuously innovating and providing a solution to the health related concerns of people in India. One such example of our commitment is, in the early days when we were researching the market and experimenting various services to offer up to NRIs, the health check included a cab pickup and drop as part of the offer. For one such appointment, the cab driver backed out and I drove the couple for their appointments.
eKincare has seen tremendous excitement and interest from corporates to leverage the platform for their employees, keep track of the overall organisation’s wellness metrics and maximise the Return on Investment (ROI) out of their wellness budgets,” concludes Kalakuntla.
Nilesh Aggarwal’s biggest decisions in life have always been driven by instinct. It is what keeps him invigorated as an entrepreneur. He gave up the INSEAD MBA, which is now ranked as the number one MBA college in the world, in order to start eMediNexus, also based on his instinct.
Nilesh admits that he had dabbled with the idea of a doctors network in 2009 in collaboration with Singapore startup Sambaash, however had postponed it after observing the low digital acceptance amongst doctors at the time. Nilesh also brings huge healthcare experience to his venture. He is a seasoned healthcare professional who has been running the IJCP Group for the past 6 years. IJCP is a leading medical communications player in India and has been in the market since 1991. Its products and services include medical journals, live and online CMEs (continuing medical education)’s , healthcare PR, digital healthcare marketing, and healthcare media.
Interestingly, Amit Sharma, the co-founder of the startup is a graduate in Economics and Policy from the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University.
After extensive experience as an investor and consultant in India’s healthcare sector, Amit identified the bottlenecks in medical education and availability of skilled workforce as the main pain points faced by industry. “Expensive brick and mortar infrastructure is required to establish capacity, and the fluency of doctors with the latest developments in modern medicine is a lagging requirement needed to maintain relevance and productivity,” points out Sharma.
A Risk that Paid Off
Amit remembers how they collaborated together. “The idea was conceptualised over years of observing the lacunas in terms of supply side standardisation in India, in addition to the exploration of business models in the United States that have been successful in digitally bringing continuous medical education (CME) to doctors, making them more effective in their trade on a real time basis, within the ever evolving field of medicine. I brought this concept initially to Nilesh, with whom further iterations at the conceptualization and implementation level led to the genesis of eMediNexus. Nilesh immediately realised the huge market potential of their idea and decided to work together and perfect it. Nilesh, under the IJCP banner was already running the hugely successful e-newspaper eMediNews and eMediNexus was conceptualized as a natural extension to this.”
eMediNexus today serves the latest medical updates, interactive content, and regulatory updates to over 200,000 doctors across India. It is clear to the founding team that the major need amongst doctors is for quality, specialty-relevant content, delivered through accessible technology, which is what the venture is quickly addressing through a multi-pronged approach.
This is not all. eMediNexus updates doctors on the last 24 hours in medicine. It is India’s leading doctor, medical learning, and healthcare advocacy network. It is a pan India digital doctor network with 40,000+ doctors from across states and cities in India.
By delivering current instructional and discussion-oriented clinical content to doctors mediated by key opinion leaders and a dedicated clinical staff, eMediNexus allows doctors to address the current vacuum in their specialty-specific CME, while interacting with their peers and seeking second opinions on patient cases. Further by launching relevant physician petitions, eMediNexus has also proven the concept of digital advocacy. eMediNexus’ innovative platform is a free service available to all doctors across India.
Amit explains how the platform works. “Doctors in India see on average 10 times the patients than their Western counterparts , facing tremendous social and professional pressure due to the laggard doctor-patient ratio relative to international norms in India and the uneven quality of the supply of care. Referrals are guided primarily by the flow of funds as opposed to case specific patient requirements. Indigenous medical content, hospital de-linked learning forums, and topical conferences are low in terms of volume and reach. CME is pending national enforcement currently only mandated in 3 states, and pharmaceutical firms who fill the void, host unaccredited content by national or state level bodies. Pharmaceutical firms are further legally unable to digitise on a meaningful scale directly due to their limited reach to doctors and face tremendously low ROI in targeting doctors offline. Advocacy efforts on behalf of the medical doctor further have no meaningful space. eMediNexus has been formed to address these deficiencies.”
Amit also adds that he is much ahead of the competition. The main differentiators eMediNexus has relative to others in the industry are 1) large and growing indigenous medical content team, 2) access to major associations and conferences with which it has digitally partnered and 3) a focus on digital advocacy for doctors where it has already run a number of successful high profile petitions (e.g. Indian Medical Association Satyagraha). Finally, eMediNexus has features such as “Groups and Conferences” which are not present with competitors, and it delivers newsletters across specialties to over 200,000 doctors on a daily basis, including India’s oldest e-newspaper which is part of it, eMediNews, widely recognized across the doctor community.It primarily reaches out to customers through its content and digital campaigns. It also pursues traditional routes such as conferences to reach customers.
Nilesh also describes other achievements of eMediNexus. “We ran the largest digital campaign in India for the healthcare community along with the IMA– the IMA Satyagraha campaign which was signed by over 30,000 doctors. The Health Ministry took notice to this and called the IMA for a meeting and agreed to their demands. Further to this, it has been recognized for its targeted surveys (e.g. on the Drug Ban of India) and campaigns by all major publications in India.”
However, he highlights the challenges of the sector. “Indian doctors are still far behind in the use of technology than their Western counterparts and a majority of the 50 + year old doctors are still very reliant on print media for updating their knowledge. Making them technology savvy proves to be an interesting challenge. We face no resistance from our content to doctors. Resistance to formalising CME is something widely known across the India.”
Nilesh foresees a bright future for eMedinexus. “eMediNexus is free for doctors, and is currently generating revenue through pharmaceutical companies, where pricing is based on its reach and the nature of engagement with doctors desired.Deal making opportunities in the sector are plenty , but eMediNexus is currently funded by its founding partner, the IJCP, and is not yet seeking external funding. So far, it has been a satisfying journey.”
For a generation who grew up thinking that managing your medication is a chore, Navia Lifecare is a pleasant surprise. The startup has been founded by alumni of Carnegie Mellon University, University of Wisonsin-Madison, and Delhi-based Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology and Delhi Technological University.
Based in Delhi, it is headed by Kunal Kishore Dhawan, a former strategy and business development professional at Fresenius Kabi, a global pharmaceutical company, and with prior stints at PwC, GSK, Abbott Vascular and US-based VC firm Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse.
Heading the technology development of the company is Shourjo Banerjee, a computer science engineer from UW-Madison. The other founding team members are Gaurav Gupta – a biotech engineer responsible for operations strategyand Nikaash Puri – a gold medalist from DTU, who handles the backend systems development at Navia Life Care.
What’s given Navia Life Care edge is its ability to understand the pulse of the market and easy to execute solutions.
The motto of the brand is – A new way to manage your health, which comes from the name itself – “Navia” or new. “Navia Life Care is a health technology company focusing on patient health management. With its mobile app offering for patients, Naviaaims to increase medication adherence and improve treatment management. It is coupled with our offering for doctors, a dedicated web portal that allows for real-time monitoring of their prescribed patients. Our product features include smart prescriptions linked with our app, adverse event monitoring tool on the app, diagnostic visualisation on the portal, and a one-way communication tool between doctors and patients in order to ensure timely follow-ups, investigation scheduling etc.,” explains Dhawan.
So, what are the Principles on which the Team has Built Navia?
“We are trying to solve the problem of treatment compliance and adherence, which is an often overlooked problem in the Indian market, in favour of some more tangible issues like revenue generation or customer outreach. In reality, adherence is extremely important, which can be highlighted by some serious data, such as the average medication adherence rate is merely 60 percent, or that 20-25 percent of all hospitalisations result from lack of adherence to treatment protocols.
We wish to differentiate ourselves through innovation and continuous product improvement. Additionally, we are the only player in the market developing a product around the concept of adherence and compliance, which will be very important going forward. Also, we will look to onboard as many doctors as we can, since the most important barrier to competitor entry, ultimately is scale,” adds Kunal.
Ask Kunal about the steepest learning curve for the team and he admits that healthcare is a highly regulated field, with its own unique set of challenges. “The Indian healthcare market is growing at a very fast pace, with some estimates pegging it to reach Rs. 1 Lakh crore by the end of this year. In spite of that, access to quality healthcare services to a large chunk of the population is a hard task. We have a doctor to patient ratio of around 1:1700, which is one of the lowest in the world. Health insurance is also not covering a majority of the public, and most of the expenses are out of pocket. Almost 30 percent of all medicines in the Indian market are reported as spurious, with several cases even going unreported. All in all, with a large spectrum of problems to work on, it is an exciting space to operate in.”
The Price that You Pay for being an Indian-born, India-based product Company
He also adds that healthcare services, when provided through smartphones, will definitely reach the younger audiences first. “This is natural, since the highest number of smartphone users are below the age of 30, and the target groups, such as chronic patients, often get afflictions later in their lives. But as the smartphone or internet penetration increases (Indian smartphone market is growing at an annual growth rate of over 35%), the older population will too start using them. We shouldn’t expect them to be first movers or early adopters, but not expecting them to use them at all would be naysaying. In fact, my own grandmother is an avid smartphone user. Also, it is important for us to make these kind of services as easy to use as possible, or involve younger people as caregivers for their older relatives, thus increasing adoption,” he says.
He also points out that he will never compromise on trust of the customers.“With the bigger players such as Practo, Lybrate, etc., gaining a significant amount of external investment, there is place for some smaller companies to establish niches for themselves. Early stage funding is available selectively, but it is advisable to go for smart money in healthcare ventures, as it is a sector that values and often needs experience. But that is harder to come by, as the investors or professionals experienced in healthcare are few and far in between. There is always a chance for companies to look at mergers and acquisitions to complement their offerings and improve their products and services,” concludes Kunal.
A successful business leader, Ravi Virmani had co-founded Noble House in his New Delhi garage which was acquired by Hewitt. After successful stints as Managing Director of Hewitt South Asia and CEO of Aventus Consulting in Singapore, he returned to India as COO of Max Healthcare. At Max Healthcare, Ravi had taken charge in 2010 when Max had 9 successive years of loss, and turned around the business within 1 year.
While working at Max Hospital, Ravi felt there is a dire need in the Indian healthcare sector on giving guidance to people suffering from chronic diseases and serious medical problems. Trained management team, timely support, and a more personalised medical approach seemed like the need of the hour. In an effort to help others find a way to navigate through the complex healthcare system in India, the idea of Credihealth was conceptualised and the company was founded in 2014.
The tagline of Credihealth is Your Medical Assistant, which effectively summarizes what Credihealth does everyday.
“Credihealth is a service that aims to support you at your time of medical need. On contacting us, we assign a medical expert who will support you in searching for specialist doctors and hospitals for your treatment, fetching detail credentials of doctors, OPD schedule & availability as well as hospital facilities and processes, scheduling a consultation with doctor & hospital of your choice, as per your convenience, getting cost estimate from three hospitals for any treatment or surgery and managing admission and discharge process at the hospital,” says Ravi.
One of biggest challenges for Credihealth is that their success is directly proportional to internet penetration in Tier II and Tier III cities, especially in 200-250 kilometers around the cities they operate.
“The – no single company can address the challenges of the Indian healthcare needs. Therein lies an opportunity for industry players – brick and mortar and internet based, to collaborate in order to cater to the country’s dire need of healthcare. Conversely, if the companies don’t collaborate, there is potential for duplication, unnecessary deployment of scarce investment dollars and under served patient population who currently run pillar topmost in the healthcare maze we live in,” says Virmani.
So, will the next big growth driver for Credihealth come from its young customers?
“This is not entirely true. In our experience, even though the average user of Credihealth is between 28- 30 years of age, people who actually receive the treatment are between the ages of 53-55 years. This means that many youngsters are relying on the online portals not only for themselves, but also for their parents/guardians . Even though word-of-mouth and referrals are still popular approaches, more and more customers are beginning to trust the internet. In recent past, we have a growing number of people calling our helpline to get detail info on doctors and hospitals – whom they have heard about from their friends and family. They are sent links to credentials of doctor along with options. After going through these, patients make a choice according to their need.Credihealth is definitely changing that initial reluctance – one person at a time,” says Virmani.
What has made Credihealth standout in India?
The biggest achievement of Credihealth has been doing away with opaqueness in the system by making the discovery of doctors and hospitals transparent, ensuring access to the right doctor, the right treatment at right cost.
“With the help of our partnering hospitals, we help families navigate the complex ecosystem and assist them to decide on the doctor and hospital for treatment. Infact, our patients have told us that this is a great value add to them- because the perception of being ‘overcharged’ is removed, anxiety in the family is managed and the right super specialist is reached.
“We are successfully reaching out to people and giving them exactly what they need- the “mundane” core features, which seem to be missing from the system,” explains Virmani.
What’s the next big thing for Credihealth?
Credihealth is also partnering with ambulance providers, preventive healthcare and wellness, lead generators, medicine delivery, home care, predictive diagnostic, remote healthcare delivery, and other providers in the healthcare value chain to ensure that customers now has access to complete healthcare services at the click of a button.
Mudit, Nipun and Pawan, co-founders of one of India’s hottest digital health startups met at IIT Delhi. As their friendship grew stronger, they often discussed starting up something of their own one day.
Mudit says,“All three of us wanted to start something of our own and were a part of different initiatives at our college. In the final year of 2012 during a midnight coffee break, the idea of starting something floated by and nobody ditched. We initially started working in healthcare sector with a medical tourism company. The business was lucrative and offered good margins just to bring in patients from overseas, but it thrived on a big inefficiency, where doctors are not connected enough to each other. It was then that we dropped the idea, took jobs with MNCs and continued researching about the concept of medical networking in India. Till May 2014, we met more than 1,000 doctors and the need was evident.”
Over 72,000 doctors from 550+ cities are using Curofy to discuss difficult cases, read latest news and browse premium jobs. Developed with an objective to become the digital world of doctors, Curofy offers them a spam-free environment to communicate with each other and provides them a support system with access to knowledge, jobs, devices and various resources that they need to become efficient in their practice.
Even today, when they talk about their initiative, their tone is tinged with excitement. “Currently, doctors are using Facebook groups and WhatsApp to discuss cases and collaborate with each other, but the process is highly unorganised. The outlook is not professional and there is a significant data loss. More importantly, aspect of networking and reputation management is lost as the entire doctor community will never be active on one FB group or one WhatsApp group. Besides that, they are spammed on these platforms. That’s where relevance of Curofy comes into picture,” explains Vijayvergiya.
So, what has been team Curofy’s approach to Innovation?
“Doctors, medical students, veterinary doctors are our target audience. However our primary focus has always been doctors. With the doctor-patient ratio of 1:1700 and the scarcity of academically oriented medical resources, doctors have found Curofy as support system to their clinical practice.
The economic status of doctors though depends on who he is catering to, a city or rural area or whether he is govt or private set up, still it is safe to say they are one of the most affluent of people in the country. He forms the upper level of the socio-economic strata in the country.Curofy is and will always be free for all the doctors,” explains Vijayvergiya.
How do they ensure that their innovation continue to be relevant for the industry?
“Curofy as a platform is providing instant access to doctors to connect to other doctors from across the country to share opinions and case studies. The app is helping doctors from around the country to be able to pool their collective wisdom online to recommend options for follow up testing and treatment, thus saving time in patient treatment which many times helps save lives of their respective patients. The main agenda of the app is to allow doctors to work effectively as teams seamlessly across borders.”
Another attribute that helped the team win more users was their focus on the needs of their customers. “Curofy is changing behaviour of doctors, making them adopt this closed social media through its relevance based algorithm, which keeps the platform targeted and spam free. Strong verification process, helps in maintaining the authenticity and trust in the community. Being mobile only, it has a very high engagement of doctors on the network. It is creating a huge impact in the digital healthcare industry by increasing supply of “online active” doctors,” adds Vijayvergiya.
What’s their approach to scaling up and expansion? “Most of the new users are coming through word of mouth. However, the team is also doing offline and online marketing. Curofy partnered with 10 national conferences as their digital media partner in last season. Online has worked better for younger doctors and offline is working better for experienced ones,” adds Vijayvergiya.
The mobile app industry in India is bound to touch half a billion dollars by 2016. If one looks at the global scenario, mobile healthcare industry is going to touch the 60 billion mark by 2020. Hence the industry size is huge and the opportunities are immense.
The question remains though-what gave the team the confidence that they could make it outside the relative comfort and security of a corporate job?
Vijayvergiya recounts that most of their initial challenges boiled down to to driving traffic from WhatsApp to Curofy. “Doctors have a high inertia in changing their behaviour. We gave them a very easy to use product with high utility. Providing them a spam free with very high relevance for each user was the key. The word is spreading now amongst the doctors and the network is growing rapidly.
Many healthcare executives believe that, due to the sensitive nature of medical care, patients don’t want to use digital services except in a few specific situations.
I believe this is all down to inertia to change. 10 years back we couldn’t believe showcasing our personal life. Today it’s on facebook. Yes there are still a lot of grey areas involving digital healthcare in the country but we believe it will change soon. Though we are not catering to patients directly, but we are creating an environment where a patient is visiting not a single doctor but a network of them across specialties and location. This gives patients enough reason to give the various platforms a try,” adds Vijayvergiya.
Dependence on startups is slowly increasing in India today. If you are hungry, you order from a Holachef or Swiggy. If your maid doesn’t turn up, you call a TaskBob. If you want to send gifts to your cousin’s baby’s birthday, you log on to FirstCry. Clearly, entrepreneurship can be a solution for dependency of services/products of other countries. At the consumer level, technology-based-innovation means access to more information, power and better care.
Yet, India is so far behind other western countries in terms of innovation in the healthcare sector, even though the country has a strong bond with entrepreneurship. There is a growing a tribe of innovators who are solving problems that we didn’t even know existed. However, the biggest challenge for the young healthtech startups would be to ensure confidentiality of the patient data, affordability of their service, reliability and integrity.