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When Jagdeep Gambir, an ISB alumnus and Finance Analyst with Goldman Sachs moved to Dalsingh Sarai, a city in Bihar’s Samastipur district, to work on a project about developing technology to control tuberculosis, he had no idea that the 18 months he spent there, would completely change the course of his life.
“I was exposed to the cruel divide between rural India and healthcare services. People had to travel long distances for medical treatment, and I saw several children who were suffering as they did not have access to timely medical help,” says Gambir.
His concerns were not unfounded. India has 1 doctor for every 1457 of its population and healthcare infrastructure is concentrated in urban areas. This covers only 27% of the population. The rest, living in rural areas face decreased access to primary healthcare facilities.
Wanting to provide quality medical treatment to people in remote areas, by using the power of technology, he quit his job and shortly after, launched Karma Healthcare, a healthcare startup that provides healthcare consultations and services over a phone or video call.
“I established Karma Healthcare in Udaipur in 2014, with the idea of leveraging technology to provide rural areas with quality primary healthcare services. But, there are certain user groups who face tech-adoption and internet access challenges. So, we introduced nurse-assisted e-doctor clinics. Trained nurses from the respective regions are deployed at the clinic to do primary checkups. For further consultation, the nurse will set up a video call with a certified doctor. In the same clinic, there is also a diagnostic lab for running tests and a pharmacy for providing necessary medicines. All of these services are offered at a price of Rs 200, and we may charge extra money depending on the medicine,” says Jagdeep.
While initial funding was done by Gambir himself, in 2015, he raised capital through organisations such as Ankur Capital Trust, 1Crowd Fund, Ennovent, Beyond Capital Fund and UBS Optimus. His initiatives have been supported by foundations such as Pranab Mukherjee Foundation, DFAT-Australian Government, Mahindra & Mahindra, and the Ray of Hope Foundation.
In the last 6 years, Karma Healthcare has established 35 ‘e-Doctor Clinics’, across 35 villages in Haryana, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. Through these e-clinics, 1,50,000 patients have been treated and more continue to be tended to.
Currently, the organisation has 92 employees including doctors, nurses, and outreach workers, and is split into two. One is the non-profit side which focuses on providing healthcare services, creating awareness programs, and organising community engagement activities. The other, the profit-making side, is mainly technology development for other non-profit organisations in the same sector.
Working Through COVID-19 and the Lockdown
Once the COVID-19-necessitated nation-wide lockdown was announced, most e-doctor-clinics had to be closed temporarily. Patients who would regularly visit the clinic for treatment were left in agony as they had no access to medicines.
“Early in April when the lockdown was still in full effect, we approached ‘Grand Challenges Canada’, a non-profit organization that funds solutions to critical health and development challenges in developing countries. We requested them to fund us for a new system to facilitate healthcare services in rural areas during the lockdown. In the same week we received the grant and we also launched ‘contactless consultations’,” says Gambir.
The new system allows direct consultation with a doctor through a video call. To make the service user friendly for everyone, an additional feature of teleconsultation was added. Patients can call the provided helpline number that will connect them to a nurse, who is a bridge between the patient and doctor. Not only does the nurse coordinate between them but also, ensures medicines are door-delivered, to the patient, from the nearest e-doctor-clinic.
“A young woman who was going through her first pregnancy wanted immediate access to a physician as she was facing some discomfort. She contacted our 24 hour helpline and explained her situation to a nurse. After consultation with a physician, that same evening medicines were delivered at her doorstep,” he smiles.
Within four days of launching the service the team has counselled more than 200 people, enabled consultations for 100 patients and even referred a few COVID-19 suspect cases to local government authorities.
“Patients can call our 24 hour helpline which will connect them to a nurse, who is a bridge between the patient and doctor. Not only does the nurse coordinate between them but also, ensures medicines are door-delivered, to the patient, from the nearest e-doctor-clinic. Patients are charged only for the medicines while consultation and delivery are free,” says Jagdeep.
Apart from this Karma Healthcare is also vigorously conducting awareness campaigns related to COVID-19. This was carried out in the form of personal phone calls to more than 5000 patients.
“Once the e-doctor-clinics will start to operate, patients visiting the premises will be given masks, hand sanitizer and gloves before entering,” says Jagdeep.
Karma Healthcare has been able to impact millions of lives by changing how healthcare is accessed in rural areas. In the future, they plan to raise more funds and expand their services across the country.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)