A problem beyond India’s low doctor-to-patient ratio is the distribution of those doctors. Most, particularly specialists, congregate in bigger cities and get seen by patients in the surrounding areas. Only 19 percent of specialists are available in community health centers across India, and most fall well below the country’s requirement for specialists. Community health centers are located in smaller towns and help patients in the area decide if they need to visit a larger, better-equipped city facility.
Satish Kannan was working for Philips Healthcare when he saw how inconvenient it was for patients in the small towns to report to clinics in big cities. This often involved them shelling out large amounts of money. “What the person does is sell everything they have and then have money for an operation,” Satish explains.
The other thing he noticed was how often patients were using Facebook and Whatsapp, particularly the latter, to communicate with their doctors post-appointment. Residents of small towns would be able to send over their test results, and they’d only need to make a return trip if there was a big problem.
If patients could connect with their doctors post-procedure, what was to say that they couldn’t connect that way beforehand?
The IIT-Madras grad’s company, DocsApp, co-founded with fellow IIT-Madras alum Enbasekar D (CTO), joins startups like Practo, DocDoc, and Medinfi in helping patients find physicians. However, the app’s main focus is specialists, and it lets patients chat with doctors and ask questions before booking an appointment.
In May last year, the #startup scored funding from two of Facebook’s early investors and Rebright Partners, an investment firm with bases in Tokyo and Singapore. It’s served over 600,000 people in India in 3,000 locations.
The doctor connection
DocsApp’s name is directly inspired by WhatsApp. As long as you have a chat screen on your phone, you can input your problems and location, find a doctor, and ask questions. A user can pay for his or her own appointment over mobile. If treatment requires a physical visit, the user doesn’t pay and is given a referral instead.
Satish whips out his smartphone and takes me through the process. He opens the app and types in that he’s having stomach pain. Users can also pre-identify which type of specialty they need – an obstetrician or a psychiatrist, for example. The system’s chat can ask a few additional automated questions – in Satish’s case, it asks if he has a fever. When he says no, it shows him a doctor profile, which he can accept or reject.
The company’s average response time is now 18 minutes.
When you’re happy with your doctor, it charges you upfront for the consultation. Patients without bank cards or mobile wallets can also pay straight from their mobile balances. DocsApp takes 20 percent of the doctor’s consultation fee. Then, the chat begins. Patients can send pictures to help illustrate their conditions.
Doctor profiles include the physician’s experience, medical counsel ID, patient reviews, specialty, and languages – DocsApp covers 17 different languages. DocsApp has 1,200 doctors in 15 specialties. All doctors on the platform are verified by looking up certification, an interview, and a facilities review.
If a consultation reveals that a patient needs a prescription, the doctor can fill it out over the app. DocsApp can deliver medicines within two days to any location in India, says Satish.
Once a user has access to one of the doctors, he or she can message the doctor 24/7 and get a response in 30 minutes – Satish says that the company’s average is now 18 minutes. The team of 55 is aiming for a minute or less.
Telemedicine is one of the ways tech is combatting India’s doctor shortage. Other startups in the industry in the country include Visit, which focuses on both physical and mental health, and SeeDoc, a physician video consultation app.
A chat is a little less personal than a physical visit, which can open the door for patients who want to discuss more taboo topics in India, like mental health and fertility questions. Satish adds that women who live in locations where it’s best to be accompanied by a man when going out also find convenience, as they don’t necessarily need to wait for a husband to come back from work before addressing a medical question she has about her child.
You build trust with consistency.
The startup’s plans include getting more specialties on the app, increasing the number of doctors, and building the brand. “We need to create awareness among the people,” he says. 50 percent of all doctor visits can be conducted virtually.
“In healthcare, trust is the number one thing. You build trust with consistency,” Satish tells Tech in Asia. Consistency is the best way to do it.