While the trajectory of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in India may be difficult to predict, clinical trials of a possibly safe and effective vaccine offers hope. As we collectively grappled with an inexplicable infectious disease, we lost no time in building healthcare access without putting people’s lives at further risk. In hindsight, even as we feel humbled by the opportunity to serve the healthcare needs of crores of patients during this time, we cannot help but feel fortunate to fall back on a decade’s worth of experience that not only prepared us for the challenges that lay ahead, but also enabled us to quickly respond to the new emergency.
In that sense, the last few months have taken us through a wonderful journey where the realization that building sustainable solutions around the needs of the entire healthcare ecosystem demands effective collaboration between all its stakeholders.
And as we worked tirelessly to support the growing demand in healthcare services, we were also beginning to pique the interest of our users, who not only wanted to know about our products and services, but also wished to know more about our journey, when it started, what road we took, the milestones we have covered and those that we are yet to reach. While this is a story that all Practeons – the army of people who have helped write this story know like the back of their hands – we want to let you in on this journey in a two-part blog series.
(PART ONE OF A TWO-PART SERIES)
12 years ago, we started Practo to solve a problem we deeply care about: simplifying access to quality healthcare. Stemming from the desire to help people live longer, healthier lives, our efforts were shaped by our intention to find a cure to a critical problem and the will to positively impact billions of lives in the process.
Born out of personal incidents, we have been relentlessly working towards solving three critical needs of Industry: Quality, Access, and Affordability. Our core focus really has been on building an environment of trust, transparency and reliability in healthcare, the lack of which continues to be the root cause of most problems that exist within the industry today.
The idea for Practo came when Shashank’s father was to undergo knee surgery. It was born out of a real need when attempts to consult a U.S. doctor for a second opinion stalled because Shashank was unable to send his father’s medical records abroad as they were not available digitally. This roadblock inspired Shashank to develop a product to digitize the operations of doctors.
This marked the beginning of Practo Ray (2008). Back then, the biggest challenge was digitization on the doctor and provider side. Our cloud-based practice management software, Ray, helped doctors and clinics manage, digitize, and make their practice more efficient. Today, the majority of clinics that use software to manage their clinics turn to Ray.
Once this product was established, we turned our focus on building doctor search to enable patients to find verified doctors with Practo.com (2013). Today, we are the go-to place for patients if they want verified, genuine doctors with the incredible convenience of reliable, instant appointment booking. This continues to be one of the biggest focus areas to date.
Over the next few years (2015-2017), we acquired a range of complementary businesses and rapidly expanded our consumer offerings to include finding hospitals and diagnostic labs, online consultation with doctors, medicine delivery, health articles by doctors and even the provision to store and securely share digital health records. Apart from Ray, doctor-side offerings have grown to include Insta and Qikwell to meet the needs of large clinic chains and hospitals, and help book appointments.
Today, Qikwell has been integrated with our search platform and is being used by many of the top hospitals across India. Insta, best suited for mid-market hospitals, helps them deliver a superior digital experience to patients, supported by the integration with other Practo products, such as Practo Prime, which we launched last year.
Practo Prime (2019) offers the convenience of online appointment booking and wait-time guarantee to consumers by working with hospitals and clinics. Today, thousands of hospitals and clinics use it to not just provide offline appointment booking convenience to their patients, but for online consultations too.
Challenges, learnings and experience:
Practo’s 12-year journey has hardly been smooth. We have inched forward with stubborn persistence at times and learned a few important lessons that have led us towards continuous improvement and steady growth.
When we started out in 2008, there was no 3G, internet penetration was low and speed was poor. It was during this time that we started our SaaS offering. In fact, we provided wireless internet sticks (dongles) with new connections so that doctors can easily experience our products. In fact, that’s how we got our name Practo – PRACTice Online.
We also underestimated the challenges associated with operating in a healthcare ecosystem that is undergoing transformational changes. For consumers, it was a behaviour change, for the better, but, for providers, it was an overhaul. Introducing software for clinic management, starting online appointments, and starting Patient Stories were bold steps that were not immediately accepted despite adding a lot of value for each stakeholder.
Sometimes a growing business needs a challenge to identify opportunities that demand unique approaches and that’s what happened at Practo.
In order to have only genuine doctors on our platform, we had a team of on-ground Practeons whose main job was to go to the streets, city by city, to capture doctor and clinic information, which was then put through a rigorous verification system. Thanks to this team, all this information is now just a click away for more than 30 crore Indians who trust our platform.
The start of practo.com also marked the launch of our B2C business. We are probably a rare exception of a company that raised its first few rounds of venture capital as a B2B company and next few as a B2C company, always optimizing for our vision of having the maximum impact on society.
Thus, although the Industry itself was at a very nascent stage – even the regulatory framework was not completely set – we’re proud to have played a role in its growth and development. In fact, it is on the back of these hard-won lessons and critical actions that we have been able to bolster digital healthcare practices in India, helping people access quality healthcare at the click of a button.
In the next and final part, we will talk about how we’ve built a sustainable business overtime and our key focus areas for the future – watch this space.