O In 2014, Dr Subhash Mehta, a Rajasthan-based general surgeon, suffered a slipped disc. While undergoing treatment, his medical practice had to be put on hold, as he was rendered bed ridden during the recovery period.
Since most of Dr Mehta’s patients belonged to rural areas, they could now no longer travel and visit him for consultations in Kota. So to deal with this sudden gap, he decided to hold consultations over video calls.
Dr Mehta’s son, Shreyans (30), an industrial engineer who was working with a startup, decided to take a leave to help his ailing father. “I picked up a laptop and secured all possible internet dongles to ensure there was adequate internet connectivity so that my father could reach the patients. After we started, the number of patients reached close to 5,000 in just 45 days,” he tells The Better India.
Shreyans says that while interacting with the villagers, he realised the burden of high costs of medical treatment borne by the financially weak rural residents.
“Very few doctors prefer treating residents of rural areas, who, as a result, have to travel to urban areas and spend around Rs 500 for a trip. Often, the patient does not travel alone and is accompanied by a relative or friend. The cost of consultation and medicines add to the expenses. Sometimes, the trip becomes more expensive than the treatment cost itself, especially when follow-ups are involved,” he says.
This inspired Shreyans to quit his job altogether and develop a digital platform to save thousands of rural patients from the hassle of such high costs, and make medical care accessible to them for as low as Rs 99.
‘A 360 degree solution’
Shreyans says 95 per cent of the patients who came to his father were satisfied with the video consultation. This further fuelled the idea to digitise medical consultations in Shreyans’ mind.
He scaled up the model to 12 villages, including neighbouring states such as Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. By the beginning of 2015, he had expanded his reach to 800 villages and reached states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
His experience only taught him more about the issues that patients in rural India face.
“My work revealed that doctors spent an average time of 120 seconds with one patient. So the money and time a patient spends on only a couple of minutes is unfair. Many were disappointed when the doctors were unavailable. Moreover, as patients did not always stick to a single doctor, many medical practitioners did not have their history as well. Hence, the patients’ resistance or intolerance towards certain drugs was unknown to the doctor,” he says.
Shreyans says that medical history is crucial for the doctor to refer to. Moreover, he learned that people in tier II and III cities depended significantly on local pharmacists for medical treatment, as they bought medicine on the advice of a chemist rather than visiting a doctor. The economics of the doctors also heavily depends on the nearby pharmacy.
To address these issues, Shreyans invested Rs 6 lakh from his savings, roped in his friends Nikhil Baheti, a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani, and Saida Dhanavath, a graduate of IIT-Bombay.
The three-member team devised mobile applications and launched their startup MedCords in 2017, making healthcare hassle-free and affordable.
Nikhil says the two apps work on multiple levels – in sync with the patient, doctor and local pharmacists.
Explaining the functionality, Nikhil says, “The patients use an app, Aayu. It helps them register personal details and access doctors for online consultations. They can then book an appointment and avail the services. The doctor uses the same app to interact with the patients. However, he also has access to the patient history and medicines prescribed on previous occasions.”
He says that access to the medical history of the patient in the database assists doctors in offering appropriate treatment and prescribing medicines. “The patient can get an appointment within 30 minutes of booking for Rs 99 for the first consultation, and Rs 149 for the second,” Nikhil notes.
Furthermore, the doctor shares the prescription with the patient on the app, who can use the same platform to locate medical stores in the neighbourhood. “The patient can compare the cost of medicines at different stores and choose one that suits them best. The medicines are delivered within 30 minutes,” Nikhil says.
Furthermore, the app offers content related to health in the form of blogs, videos and personal care guidance.
Meanwhile, medical store owners have a dedicated app called ‘Sehat Sathi’ that enables access to the orders and executes the delivery. Both the apps and all three interfaces share the same backend, thus enabling smooth functioning and data sharing between the parties.
Quality medical care synced with affordability
Riyaz Ansari, owner of Rajdhani medical store in Kota, says the app has proven to be a game-changer for his business. “Earlier, a few patients who had the phone number of the store ordered medicines on call. But the app has made business convenient. I can cater to more customers, offer discounts, and deliver the medicines at home,” he says.
Riyaz says he joined the digital platform in December 2020. “My business has increased by 20 per cent as the customers often order products other than medicines as well. I also have orders coming from a wider geographic area, which was earlier limited to the neighbourhood,” he adds.
Anwar Hussain from Kota has used the Aayu app for seven consultations for his family members. “I can book an appointment in 15-20 minutes and receive a prescription at the end of it. The app also helped during COVID-19, when the scare of the virus was high. My uncle needed medical support for his illness as he suffered a cold and cough. But if we visited a clinic, the doctor would demand a COVID test for him before the consultation and add to the medical expenses. However, the medicines prescribed over the app helped my uncle recover in five days,” he says.
Meanwhile, Baljit Singh Khiva, a Pune-based entrepreneur, says, “I am not always keen on visiting a medicine store and decided to use the app for buying medicine and hair oil. The order was delivered within half an hour against the 45 to 60 minutes taken by other product delivery platforms,” he says.
Baljit says the timely service impressed him, and that he was not charged additional delivery costs.
So far, MedCords has reached 600 cities, tied up with 25,000 medical stores and collaborated with 5,000 doctors to offer medical care on one’s fingertips. It has a medical record of 18 lakh patients. By 2022, it wants to increase the numbers to 50,000 medical stores, rope 7,500 doctors and benefit 30 lakh patients.
Saida says the company earns revenues from the subscription model and consultation fees. “The fee is low, and doctors mainly aim to serve the patients and not just earn money out of the consultations. They feel proud to be serving the needy without keeping monetary gains as priority,” he says.
Shreyans says that using tech is the only solution to make healthcare accessible to the masses at an affordable rate. “Doctors avoid travelling to rural areas. Tech will reduce such barriers to consultations. Moreover, the patient can save money and time to receive quality treatment at affordable cost,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu