After Flipkart & Makemytrip, will healthcare industry give India its next big internet business?


Over the past decade-and-a-half, different startups have leveraged the internet to ease the day-to-day lives of consumers.

The first big opportunity arose when Makemytrip and its rivals revolutionized the travel industry by overhauling travel bookings; then Flipkart showed how to build a billion-dollar business by bringing modern retail to the computers (and mobiles) of consumers.

Most recently, the likes of Zomato, BookMyShow and Justdial have shown how the internet can be used to re-architect the food and beverage, events and local search spaces, respectively.

Now, a clutch of companies is looking to do the same with healthcare — specifically the chaotic and fragmented business for medical practitioners — and build the next big internet business out of India.

These companies, ranging in age from six years (like the sector’s proverbial 800-pound gorilla Practo) to those that are barely a year old, are using the internet to aggregate and organize data on doctors, clinics, hospitals and other healthcare businesses, and provide a platform for consumers to access them.

Then, some of them are targeting the doctors themselves. They have jumped into the heart of a doctor’s business — patient appointments, records and billings — to try to digitize what have been sheaves of paper.

In the past year and more, these companies have been gaining significant traction — market leader Practo to date has managed some 15 million records and booked 16.6 million appointments with 109,000 doctors across 351 towns and cities — even as investors, eager for their next big payout after e-commerce, begin to bite.

Investors Pop the Pill

The likes of Sequoia Capital and Nexus Venture are just a couple of venture capitalists that have backed firms in this space, even as others such as Matrix Partners weigh investments in this burgeoning market.

Avnish Bajaj was one of the early success stories of India’s internet revolution — a startup called he cofounded was sold to eBay a decade ago for $55 million in 2004.

Now, he thinks the healthcare market could spawn India’s next big internet smash hit. And, as the founder of Matrix Partners, an early-stage investor, he’s keenly watching this space.

“India is mainly a cash economy for healthcare and people have a choice of which doctor to approach unlike the West, where you’re forced to choose from a predetermined pool due to insurance restrictions,” he says.

However, this choice is a doubleedged sword, since reaching these doctors isn’t easy. Enter the online facilitators.

“These companies can solve a pressing consumer problem and in the process build a large and scalable internet company. Why can’t the next Zomato be from the healthcare space?” wonders Bajaj. Entrepreneurs seem to agree.

“The use of technology in healthcare is limited, especially for a consumer,” says Shashank ND, cofounder of Bangalore-based Practo. “Finding a doctor, booking an appointment and getting a bill and the overall experience at a clinic or hospital are, for a consumer, a poor experience.”

The chaos — a large market, multiple customer pain points and a lack of technology in healthcare — may be an ideal setting for the likes of Practo. “The use of technology can revolutionize customer experience in this industry,” says Shashank.

His firm, he contends, has proven this business is viable. “Practo Ray, the practice management software, has become dominant in its field — 15% of doctors use some form of this software and 90% of them use our product,” he claims.

Products such as Practo Ray have helped overhaul the perception of a doctor’s business. Users can get printed — rather than illegibly-scrawled — prescriptions, appointment reminders are messaged to patients and invoices digitally stored. “We have upgraded the customer experience,” he says.

Virtual Remedies

This is just the reason Hemanshu Mehta, a dentist with a clinic in Mumbai’s Sion suburb, signed up with Practo. The clinic, which is usually packed through the week, needed a software package to manage patient appointments and records and help the doctor access them on the go. “Earlier, five out of 10 patients would give us excuses for not turning up,” says Mehta between appointments.

“Now, they get a call and an automated text message reminder to keep them updated.” Recently, the doctor has also begun to use Practo Hello, a virtual receptionist, to add another layer of technology to his operation. This tool, he adds, allows him to track the booking of appointments, access patient records and data — and reach out to them directly — while he is on the move. “Patient care has become much more manageable and flexible with these tools,” he says.



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