Kalpana V, a Practo user, found herself in need of a doctor for her child at a time when she was in a village near a coastal area. There were a cyclone and rain, and going to a doctor in the closest town would have been difficult. Practo, an app for finding and consulting with doctors, came to her aid. Kalpana’s internet connection was patchy, so she got a call on her phone instead of from a doctor, and got a prescription as well, she wrote in her review of the app last November, on Google’s Play store.
Instances like Kalpana’s are less uncommon today in India after the Covid-19 pandemic pushed millions of people to seek doctors online, from the safety of their homes.
“India is going through this revival of our understanding that a lot of health issues are inter-connected,” says Abhinav Lal, co-founder, and chief technology officer at Bengaluru’s Practo. Practo, which offers various health services under the same brand name, is doubling down on making itself the go-to online platform for people to take a holistic approach to their health, rather than seek doctors in an episodic manner, he explains.
SHIFT TO DIGITAL HEALTH CARE
When the pandemic came, “whatever growth we expected over the next three to four years, we saw more than that happen in the last 10 months,” Lal says.
From a large number of appointment bookings online for consultations offline, Practo saw a “massive shift” towards online consultations. The investments it had made until then allowed it to do multiple things. One, Practo had systems built to handle a surge in demand. For the calendar year 2020, teleconsultations jumped by 3x over the previous year. During the lockdown months, the peak demand was 10x. Practo had 175 million unique users, Lal and co-founder and CEO Shanshank ND said in a blog post in November.
Second, there was an increase in the number of doctors getting online. Practo now has more than 25,000 doctors providing online consultations. The company created an ‘academy’ to train these doctors on how to conduct online consultations.
And third, Practo had built the technology to offer real-time appointment bookings. People can get on the Practo app, look for a doctor, check her schedule and book an available slot directly. Some of the doctors use Practo’s software to manage their appointments, but Practo also integrates with third-party software to aggregate information on doctors’ availability— and Practo can auto-assign a suitable doctor in an on-demand process.
A smaller line of business comprises at-home diagnostics and medicine delivery, which is complementary to the doctor consultation, but not core to Practo’s business. The software stack that Practo has built, meaning the software to handle these different needs, is the largest in the country, Lal says.
A significant portion of the fundraise that Practo has done so far has gone into building these technologies. The company has raised about $230 million in 10 rounds of funding. Acquisitions have also brought in some of the technologies Practo offers, such as the hospital information management system from Insta Health Solutions, which it acquired in 2015.
Today, about 20 million people use Practo every month, Lal says. Its bookings for offline consultations are still focussed on the top seven cities in India, but Practo is expanding this and expects to reach about 30 cities over the next few quarters. On the online consultation front, people from about 1,000 cities and towns have used Practo over the last year, he says.
Practo has also come to the fore at a time when people are looking for reliable medical information and shifting from managing specific health-related incidents to a more continual approach. This means they need to store historical information about their illnesses, the medicines they took, and so on. Practo is encouraging and helping people to look at their health care needs in a more holistic manner, Lal says.
Initiatives announced by the government are also helping. For example, there is now a National Digital Health Mission, a plan to create a unified health ID, and a plan for a federated health record system.
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