PUNE: As more people go online to find, consult and stay in touch with doctors, it is proving to be a windfall for young ventures that enable such connections and doctors who are gaining more patients.
The digitised solutions offered on desktops and smartphones by these startups range from online access to medical records, post-consultation care and customised software for payments, billing and scheduling appointments.
"We have doctors reporting a 30% increase in revenue due to digitisation," said Shashank ND, CEO of Practo Technologies, a Bangalore-based venture that aims to sign up over 1 lakh doctors by the year-end.
The 26-year-old engineer from the National Institute of Technology, Suratkal, spotted the opportunity for a new venture when he was unable to get a second opinion for his father's medical condition without digitised reports that could be shared online with overseas experts. The four-year-old company now connects doctors with patients, provides digitised medical records, billing and reminders on prescriptions.
Doctors signing up said the most visible gain is improved communication with patients. "When someone does miss an appointment, they inform us in advance. This saves time and money," said Dr Vineet Gupta, a dental surgeon, who has seen 95% drop in cancellations.
Also, with the patient database linked to his phone, the doctor can now access medical records when a patient calls. "I can now respond to the patient personally," said Dr Vineet Gupta.
It is this growing convergence of demand and supply that is stoking investor interest in the sector.
In the first quarter of 2013, over 57 crore was invested in healthcare services companies, according toMercom Capital Group, a healthcare consulting firm. Practo, which has raised about 23 crore in seed capital, including from Sequoia Capital, expects its customised technology to be used in 50,000 clinics by the end of this year.
The demand for greater digitisation stems from patients themselves.
In Chennai, Srividya Sayeeraman uses the services of MocDoc, a one-year-old venture, to find and book consultations with doctors.
"Even after my visit, they called back to check if the experience was good. This makes me trust the doctors listed with them," said the 42-year-old executive.
With both patients and doctors gaining from digitisation, startups are building dual streams of revenue.
For instance, MocDoc, founded by 35-year-old PM Senthil Kumar, charges hospitals and doctors between 50,000 and 70,000 for a patient management system. And patients who want to take charge of personal records can get the service at between 50 and 100 a month.
"What digitisation has really done is put the patient on an equal footing with the doctor," said Shantanu Jha, chief executive of DocSuggest, a four-year-old venture that encourages patients to rate doctors on its portal.
"Unlike the earlier referral system where the patient did not have much choice, he can now research a doctor and take second opinion more easily," said Jha, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. His company charges a fixed fee from hospitals and doctors, ranging from 100 to 300 for each appointment, while the service is free for patients.
"We have seen revenues increase by around 10 times in the past year," said Jha, who has raised two rounds of funding for the company, including from angel investor Vishal Gondal.
Many of these startups are now aiming to move services directly to a patients' phone.
SmartRx, a Bangalore-based venture that began by scheduling appointments, has now moved to offering a proprietary platform for patients.
After an operation, patients can reach thesurgeon through an e-consult service on smartphones.
Rishabh Kaila, director of sales and marketing of SmartRx, expects the company to reach 10 million patients by 2015 with revenue in excess of Rs 50 crore.
Experts said more such ventures will emerge with new innovations linking healthcare and medical tests to mobile phones and apps, helping reduce cost and enabling remote access.
"With our public healthcare system still lacking in many basic facilities, technological solutions will become the means of increasing healthcare access," said Krishna Tanuku,executive director of Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurship Development at the Indian School of Business.