The second most populous nation in the world, with a population of over 1.23 billion, has just 938,861 registered allopathic doctors. According to National Health Profile 2015, a report prepared by the Central Bureau for Health Intelligence (CBHI), India has just 7 doctors per 1,000 citizens. There is evidently a huge gap in the healthcare provisions available for the people. While the ratio might be better in the urban areas, it grows wider in the rural areas where a majority of the population resides.
In Union Budget 2016-17, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced that the government will establish 3000 new pharmacies under the Jan Aushadhi Yojana, especially in rural areas to provide generic drugs at reasonable rates. Additionally, it was stated that the government has allocated Rs.1,500 crore for health insurance scheme, providing a cover of a cover of Rs.1 lakh per poor family. It is yet unclear how these schemes will mitigate the need for more doctors, hospitals and other infrastructure to meet the demands of the population. However in this entire schema of healthcare in the country, there are a few professionals who have realised this market need and are trying to develop technology to make the available physicians accessible to patients.
An Introduction to iCliniq
As mentioned above, India has seen a rise in the number of startups addressing the issue of doctor to patient ratio. Popularly known as ‘Tele-Health’, this sector of healthcare technology that enables the concept of on-demand consultation with a doctor either over telephone or a video, is catching up both in India and globally. Operating on the same principal is Coimbatore based startup called iCliniq.
iCliniq was launched by Dhruv Suyamprakasam and Dr. Madathupalayam Madhankumar in 2012. Dhruv completed his graduation in Mechanical Engineering in 2010 from Anna University, Chennai. During his graduation itself, he had developed an inclination towards bridging the gap between patients and the required doctors. Under the guidance of Dr. Madan he went ahead to understand in depth on how to resolve this problem and set up a healthcare venture under the name Orane Healthcare. While acting as a co-founder with Dhruv, Dr. Madan also gave the initial capital investment for the company.
The company provides on demand consultation via chat query, call and video consultation. At present, it claims to have 145,000 patients across 160 countries, with over 1200 doctors on board globally. The key to this success till date, as per Dhruv, has been the equal emphasis on both technology and healthcare aspects of the model.
Challenges Faced in Creating a Tele-Health Venture
Starting up right after college, Dhruv did face the challenges common among the fresh graduate entrepreneurs – of building and managing a business. The initial growth was slow also due to the following reasons
- The development work was initially outsourced to a small startup in Coimbatore and then to another company in Bangalore. Both didn’t work out, the company lost 2.5 years here.
- While having an in-house technology team helped in an accelerated development, there was still a challenge in finding doctors who would be willing to join the platform
- After reviewing close to 10,000 doctors nationwide only 4 agreed to join the platform, due to lack of technology awareness and apprehensions among physicians.
- Till 2013 Founders were paying doctors from their own pockets
- In absence of a prepaid model initially, 95% of the customers didn’t pay post consultation
- Cracking the right pricing model was also a challenge to acquire customers
“Our first and most critical observation on the platform was that best medical outcomes in consultations happen when doctors ask the right question and not the opposite. Based on this formula, we built the ‘quality assurance team’ which is a team of doctors that designs the process of ‘asking the right questions’ and constantly assists the doctors in “asking the right questions to the patients”. We are the first healthcare company to come up with quality assurance team in this industry and that has been a breakthrough for us. We are the first and probably the only healthcare company that has designed such a process for quality medical outcomes.” says Dhruv.
The in-house team of 12 has a fair mix of both medical and technology professionals.
Realising that Indian market might not be so receptive to a virtual consultation platform, in 2013, the team released the product in US. As the domestic market was gradually warming up, Indian doctors consulting patients in US turned out to be a success for the company, and the model was replicated to other countries successively.
In 2014, the company started charging the patients for the consultations. “We aptly priced the slabs based on the GDP of the country, and currently we accept 7 currencies” says Dhruv. The company retains 29% of the fee as a platform charge, and passes on the rest to the concerned doctor.
With USA, UK and the Middle East as the top markets, the company achieved breakeven in 2015.
Health-Tech & Innovations
Understanding that an average user may not require their app on a frequent basis, the team launched a chat bot on Whatsapp to answer queries immediately, which was later rolled back due to restrictions by Whatsapp. However one can utilise instant messaging on Telegram & Slack to send their health issues with pictures and medical reports to doctors, any time.
When asked about immediate future plans, Dhruv said “We are planning to use artificial intelligence in healthcare which would help doctors answer patient’s queries much faster and in turn would bring down the cost of doctor consultations drastically and make healthcare affordable to all.”
Competition, Opportunity & Way Forward
Even in the presence of online consultation platform Lybrate and the likes, the company founders say that they do not see a competition in India. They count global firms like Doctor On Demand, HealthTap, Teladoc and MDLive as competitors since they earn majority of their revenue from overseas.
iCliniq is now looking to raise Series A to move ahead on its plans of building a fast AI driven query response system, and to take its product to more users.
The company still wants to maintain its focus on solving its initial mission of rationalising the doctor-patient ratio in India. “Online healthcare is a $5 billion market and domestically it’s a $ 750 million, but its poised to grow bigger with India alone poised to carve a billion dollar share.” says Dhruv.