Practo, an online platform for booking appointments with doctors, has turned many heads recently with its growth strategy. The largest health care technology start-up in the country has adopted two key routes to scale up its business - acquisitions and aggressive international expansion. With nearly 200,000 practitioners and about 10 million monthly searches, Practo, which was founded in 2008 by NIT Surathkal students Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal, claims to be among the fastest growing health care platforms in Asia. Since April, the Bengaluru firm has bought four companies - FitHo in April, Genii Technologies in July and Insta Health and Qikwell in September. "We believe that acquisitions are a fantastic way to add like-minded talent to our team. It gives us a fast way to scale up and accelerate our growth. We will continue to look at acquiring great talent and technology," says Shashank, who is also the chief executive officer of Practo. Others agree. "Acquisitions allow for rapid scale-up, which is an imperative for all start ups. In that sense, it is a good thing to do," says Jaideep Mehta, managing director (India and South Asia), International Data Corporation. Practo is also expanding geographically, both in India and abroad. In India, it is looking to have its footprint in all the 100 cities chosen for the Centre's smartcity project, apart from Tier-II and -III cities. Globally, Southeast Asia is a thrust area, given the high penetration of smartphones and low reach of insurance in the region. What sets Practo apart from others is its two-way approach to health care. While patients can book appointments online, easy access to digital health records helps doctors offer better service to their patients as well. Practo started out by enrolling doctors first. With what it calls Practo Ray, the company enabled health care professionals to digitise the records of their patients.
The initiative started at a time when Indians were just beginning to access internet on their mobile handsets and, therefore, quickly picked up steam. Currently, India does not meet the World Health Organisation's standard of having at least one doctor for every 1,000 people. The doctor-patient ratio per thousand in India has been more or less constant over the past four years at around 0.7, according to a World Bank data, suggesting a huge gap between demand and supply. "It is a venture driven by a clear vision of a healthier society. It helps people to discover and access quality health care in an easier, more efficient way and solves a huge problem for all of us. They have truly innovated by creating a unique, India-centric model which marries the best of modern technology with large-scale vision and tremendous execution," says Mehta. Practo's business model, which allows a user to book an appointment with a doctor through the website www.practo.com, has been aided by the rapid growth in the adoption of technology in the country. Furthermore, the drive to orient health care to the needs of patients has also helped. "Hospitals and doctors are now adopting a consumer-centric approach to health care. They have aligned to our vision of becoming more sensitive towards consumer needs," says Shashank. Practo has also been very matter of fact about generating revenues. From the start, its software enabling doctors to digitise their patients' records was made a subscription-based service, even though payment-based services are known to dissuade users from accessing it. For Practo, that gamble has paid off. "It is important to take unconventional routes to reap success at times," he says. The scope for growth is also immense, given that only about 20 per cent of all medical records are digitised in India. "Our aim is to digitise the rest 80 per cent in three to four years," says Shashank. While it is a common place to store medical records in digital format in developed countries, in India the progress has been slow so far because of technological bottlenecks. "All this while, it was on paper because there was no access to quality technology. But the scene is no longer the same and the demand has increased now," says the co-founder. Analyst expect Practo to drive growth in the future not only by getting more customers and doctors on board but also by expanding into new areas like wearable health devices, wellness and fitness. They expect acquisitions to be central to this strategy too. Data analytics to gain insights into health care trends might be on Practo's radar too. "It will also not surprise me if the company makes an acquisition in the analytics space in the near future," says Mehta.