Technology impacting healthcare ?
Like we all know, technology is really transforming the way we all live today. From healthcare, education, banking, travel, etc. So, in a way, what is happening is that all of our solutions and everyday activities are hugely impacted as well as improved by the adoption of technology in all these areas. We are aware that access to healthcare in a country as large as India is a huge challenge. For a population of over a billion people, we have less than 200,000 specialist doctors. The second challenge is that 97% of available healthcare facilities are concentrated in only the top cities. Both of these problems, one being the shortage of quality specialist doctors and the other being the disparity in concentration of infrastructure, create a huge challenge when it comes to the accessibility of quality healthcare.
Consumer trends ?
All walks of life have been influenced by digital technologies and solutions. What has happened in the last two years is the adoption of technology in healthcare and accessing healthcare services through digital platforms has significantly increased. From talking to a doctor, buying medicines, booking lab tests, etc. In a way, Covid has also accelerated digital adoption. What would have taken around 5 years has now been compressed. As people even residing in big cities with the best facilities available, could not physically go to the hospitals. You would ideally prefer to consult with a doctor on video call owing to social distancing norms and covid fears.
All of these factors have transformed behaviour. We have noticed three important changes – one in the customer’s mind, where accessing healthcare services online has become common and familiar. Second, the doctors. Initially, when the pandemic first hit, a lot of doctors and hospitals also took a leap of transformation by coming to digital platforms and delivering services through the medium. The third significant change observed has been a change in the government regulations in healthcare. All these changes combined are really going to help India grow significantly faster in the coming years.
Idea behind MediBuddy? How has the journey been so far?
I am the Co-founder with Enba. We did our bachelor’s and master’s in electrical engineering from IIT Madras. We had similar interests in the field of healthcare, and we both wanted to work at the intersection of healthcare and technology. I started my career in Philip Healthcare in the cardiology division, and my co-founder, Enba, worked for a diabetic company in diabetic retinopathy. This exposure gave us a much better understanding of doctors, patients, operating theatres, and the various healthcare challenges in India.
I left the cardiology team, and Enba left the diabetes division, and together we started the company. The idea was to see how we would use digital platforms. As we are all aware, smartphones are growing rapidly, the cost of the internet is coming down, and we are home to a very large young population who are extremely fast at adopting new services. Which is why I thought that we should build a digital platform that would help patients across the country access all the services on a single platform.
We started with two people, and today we are a strong team of over 1,400 individuals. We have offices in around 21 cities, with our headquarters in Bangalore, with 900 team members, and the rest, 500 across multiple cities.
On a service level, you can talk to a doctor on a video call, book an appointment, or go to the hospital for a physical consultation with a specialist. We run close to 300 clinics that you can visit. We operate over 90 ambulances. We offer home medicine delivery services and lab tests ranging from blood tests to x-rays, etc. We also help and guide patients getting surgeries and major procedures through our platform. Our aim is to continue making high quality healthcare accessible.
Adoption and the challenges
One of the challenges was creating awareness. It is very important to make people realise that you can actually access a doctor through a video call and ensure that you are getting the right quality of healthcare as well as information when you want to make a decision regarding your healthcare and healthcare journey. We had to create a lot more awareness about such solutions and how we are able to deliver them across the country.
For us, when we started and were engaged in a lot of customer surveys and research, we realised that access to healthcare in a lot of parts of India, especially the middlebelt of India, the healthcare infrastructure was not very well developed. So, we had a lot of customers from these areas, as otherwise these people would have had to travel to cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, and Kolkata. Our initial customers were primarily from small towns and were using the platform to talk to doctors. Today, we have grown significantly from there. We have customers from the big cities as well who are accessing digital services due to Covid. Both of these have enabled us to help a lot more people across the country.
It is important to ensure that our solutions are easy to adopt across the country. When we spoke to a lot of customers in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, what we understood was that they would like to speak to a doctor in their local language. So, we have consciously ensured that our app is very easy to use. Our UI and UX are as easy as WhatsApp or any other social media platform. As the usage has to be simple enough that they know how to talk to a doctor, buy medicines, book tests in the process. The second was to ensure that all these services were available in multiple Indian languages. So you could talk to a doctor in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, etc. This makes the customer comfortable and makes it easy to navigate through the platform. We also tried to make these services available at an affordable price through MediBuddy Gold. A subscription programme that allows you to consult with doctors not only for yourself but also covers your family members. Your father, mother, wife, or kids can all interact with specialist doctors through MediBuddy Gold for an entire year. It offers a solution not only for yourself but also becomes a family product. And in small towns, you never know when the need arises, and you require consultation for you or any other family members. So, buying MediBuddy Gold becomes very easy. These are the multiple things we have done to make healthcare very accessible.
Are the doctors comfortable with the platform
The doctors are definitely the backbone of the platform. What we wanted to ensure was that we were able to provide them with the right training as well as the right guidance in using the digital platform. Before we usually onboard any doctor, we have a three-step process to make sure that the quality of doctors is maintained on the platform. We check their educational qualifications. A senior specialist or head of department then interacts with these doctors, and we also run a KYC for the doctors.
After they are onboarded, we have a lot of training modules that help and guide the doctors in understanding how to provide online consultations, how to use the software, and how to provide the best support possible to the customer or patient through the digital medium.
All these doctors are doing great in the physical space, and when Covid happened to a lot of them when they were transitioning to the online medium, we had guidelines or best practises that would help the doctor. All of which were seamlessly adopted by the doctors, which also showcases the kind of dedication and support extended. The doctors really wanted to use all possible mediums to reach the patient. We enabled these doctors by providing them with a tool to come online and increase their reach, while also ensuring good quality healthcare.
Clarity on guidelines for doctors in telemedicine?
The government has issued the guidelines for telemedicine, and they were released by the government in March 2020, just at the beginning of Covid. Yes, that has happened already. As I mentioned, one of the things that has happened in the industry is that regulation has been set up, and initially there were a lot of challenges. Can you do it online? Can you not do it online? But the guidelines have given a lot more clarity and have solved all these problems.
When the first guidelines came, they took feedback on how it could be implemented and then they modified the guidelines.
No, there is no lacuna left. They are adding more and more to that. At first it was only doctors and patients, but now they have launched as part of NDHM UHI also, which is very similar to UPI. Now they are focusing on the larger picture and are finding ways to support hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, etc. as well.
When we look at what MediBuddy should do, we always think about how many patients we are able to touch, how many we are able to support and help on a daily basis. Currently, we are able to cater to over 35,000 plus daily patients, and our next immediate plan is to make sure we help 1,00,000 patients every day. That is what we are all working towards.
How we see the transformation happening in the next couple of years is through the phygital approach. Which means a lot of your healthcare services and solutions can be accessed as well delivered online. I would firmly believe that over 80% of your doctor consultations, medicine delivery, lab tests, and home care services using digital medical devices to track vitals would all take place through digital platforms. Around 20% of the time, you may be required to go to the hospital to get a physical examination or have a procedure done. The follow-up consultation post-surgery and the recovery process can all happen at home through digital platforms or through home healthcare services. Where a nurse can come to your house, a paramedic, a physician, or a physiotherapist can come to help with recovery. It will be a hybrid approach where the majority of things will happen online and some offline. This will help accessibility and affordability increase, and we will be able to provide the best quality services at the right price for a country like India.