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We think about health care differently: Shashank ND

Interview with Founder and CEO, Practo

Alokananda Chakraborty 

Shashank ND, Practo
Shashank ND

Health care is one of the last industries to be completely transformed by technology, Shashank tells Alokananda Chakraborty

In a country like India where we put a lot of weight on word of mouth recommendation - especially so while choosing our health care service provider - what makes you so certain that your business model can succeed here?

We are not looking to replace the 'offline word of mouth' system but are in fact looking to improve on it and make it more robust and accessible.

Today, when deciding to see a doctor, most people speak to a couple of people at the most and then go see the doctor they get recommendation for. This may not be ideal for a variety of reasons. For example, what if your trusted friends don't know a doctor for your particular illness? Even if they know, usually no more than one or two you know can give you information about the same doctor. In addition, word of mouth does not always carry the detailed information about a doctor, such as his education, or clinic timing or even the fees.

As part of our search product, we have built a robust system, Practo Feedback, that enables verified patients to provide feedback about their experience with a doctor and/or clinic. So along with detailed information about the doctor including his qualification, specialisation and even location, consumers can actually read through the feedback provided by scores of other patients, which makes choosing the right doctor that much more reliable.

Having said that, do note that we list doctors for free (and only post verification) and patients can find doctors and book appointments for free and doctors can receive appointments for free as well.

What sort of research did you conduct before setting up operations here? Did your research throw up any interesting findings about potential consumers of your service? What sort of effort did it take to convince doctors to come on board?

Practo was conceptualised with the mission to help people live better, healthier lives by simplifying and digitising their health care experience and decision making. We launched our first product, Practo Ray, a SAAS product which helps doctors digitise their practice by enabling scheduling, billing, inventory as well as creating digital health records for the patients. We have found tremendous acceptance among the doctor community and we have over 90 per cent market share among doctors using some kind of software to manage their practice. We launched the consumer product with the intent to address the huge need among consumers to find the right doctor. Today, Practo is the largest doctor search platform in Asia.

How is your service any different from, say, a Ziffi, Zocdoc or a Bookmydoctor. com? There are some highly localised services also available, such as, meetmydoctor in Bangalore. Are they a serious threat?

We are the only company (perhaps in the world) that is solving the health care problem simultaneously from both - the doctor as well as the patient - sides. As more and more doctors digitise their practice, it improves the consumer experience by providing them with digital health records, digital prescriptions (and reminders), easy repeat checkups or existing appointment reminders etc. With respect to just finding and booking the right doctor, we are the largest doctor search platform in Asia with over 140,000 doctors, growing 30-50 per cent every quarter.

We don't believe in using third party data. We have a large team that goes street by street, city by city to list doctors and health care establishments on Practo. We have a team that verifies credentials before we list them on Practo. This ensures that when consumers come to our platform, they can trust what they read. Our feedback system is unique as well and is a big reason why consumers keep coming to Practo to find the right doctor. We think about health care differently. Take our mission--helping people live healthier and longer lives. This can happen only when we can help them make better health care decisions. To make better health care decisions we want to make all their health care information available to them at all times and also make that actionable. This begins with finding the right doctor and will culminate into a single health account for everyone.

Do you find consumers from tier-II, tier-III cities also coming to our site? Are their search patterns or online behaviours any different from those in metros?

Earlier this year, we announced our plan to expand into 35 cities in India and we have already achieved that. In a couple of months we have come to notice that almost 20-25 per cent of traffic comes from tier-II and tier-III cities. So clearly there is strong demand. We are not yet seeing much variance in their search patterns from the top 10 cities.

Where do you go from here - what are the ways you could scale up over the next two to five years? Mind you, that is a long time if you consider the way the worldwide-web is changing the way we conduct businesses and choose our service providers.

Health care is one of the last industries to be completely transformed by technology. We will add more features, products and several more categories, including hospitals, diagnostic centres as well as spas, salons, wellness and fitness centres as well. Our expansion will continue - both within India and internationally- as will the aggressive drive to get the best talent on the planet.

We have tripled our team to over 1,200 in the last few months and we will be looking to add another 1,000 people within the next 10 months.

Health record

  • Shashank co-founded Practo in 2008 to build "a patient friendly health care ecosystem"
  • He has a B.Tech from the prestigious National Institute of Technology, Surathkal, and is a founder circle member of iSPIRT, a think tank for the Indian software industry
  • Shashank has been featured in the ‘30 under 30’ list of young influential people to watch by Forbes in 2015

First Published: Mon, May 25 2015. 00:11 IST