It is one thing to build quality products and another thing to ensure it reaches the right people. This is especially challenging in the case of primary healthcare services, which is intended for everyone.
Over the course of a decade, Practo has been working towards perfecting both. With the vision to make quality healthcare accessible and affordable for a billion+ Indians, we have developed products that resonate with everyone. This focus on product quality is matched by a relentless effort to ensure that it reaches its target customers – anyone who should have the opportunity to be healthy.
However, our commitment to health equity – the theme for this year’s World Health Day – is as ambitious as it is challenging. Despite the progress made, inequalities by socioeconomic status, geography and even gender continue to persist. This is compounded by the fact that people are hesitant to seek medical care for fear of exposing themselves to further risk amid this pandemic.
Thus, attaining healthcare equity necessitates a thorough evaluation of all factors preventing a fair chance at being healthy. At Practo, we are working towards achieving this by challenging some of these factors through our recent initiatives.
Vernacular language options for online consultations
To ensure equitable healthcare, it is important that everyone has the opportunity to attain their full health potential irrespective of their socially defined circumstances. But while enabling healthcare professionals with the right tools to serve patients has been integral to our vision, what is just as critical is to ensure that the disparate needs of this growing pool of users are met. Thus, in building a patient-centric healthcare system, one of the key challenges identified by us is linguistic disparity in healthcare access.
With little over 10% of the Indian population adept at English, there is an urgent need to break down the language barrier in patient-doctor communications. This is especially true for online consultations, which saw a 3x increase in users between March and November last year. What is more, this was reported across geographies, with a 229% increase from non-metro cities and 92% from metros in just one year.
Coupled with the fact that 9 out of 10 new internet users in India are native language speakers, reducing linguistic barriers to improve access to care through meaningful online consultations is the need of the hour.
Keeping this in mind, we have added 15 vernacular languages for teleconsultations aimed at those with limited English proficiency. With this, online consultation users can choose a doctor who can speak in their preferred language – be it Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada or Bengali – with more to be added soon.
Launched earlier this year, 25% of all online consultations on Practo during that time were conducted in vernacular languages, with Hindi emerging as the preferred language, followed by Tamil, Marathi and Kannada.
“I’ve consulted online in the past, but with English being the default language, it was not easy for me to accurately explain my symptoms to the doctor,” says Ravi Kumar, a 31-year-old Practo user who identifies Hindi as his native language, “Since I didn’t have to worry about being misinterpreted this time, I was comfortable with the interaction and completely trusted the diagnosis that was made,” he adds.
Adds Dr Rishav Bansal, Consultant and Head of Department, Geriatric Medicine at Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital (SDMH), “In Jaipur where I practice, most people speak Hindi. In fact, the few who start their online consultation in English, quickly shift to Hindi as they begin to explain their symptoms in detail. For patients like these, the option to have an online consultation in their preferred language is not only convenient but also effective. In that sense, this feature is an important addition to Practo’s online consultation offering,” he adds.
Furthermore, nearly 67% of these consultations were from users living in non-metro cities. What is more, 65% of all vernacular consultations were from users aged 60 and above.
“About 10% of patients who come to me prefer speaking in their native languages during online consultations,” says Dr Shalini Chandan, family medicine specialist and consultant at Family Tree Clinic in Bangalore. “Given that I’m fluent in four languages, including Kannada, Telugu and Hindi, I have the opportunity to offer my expertise to a wider pool of patients who are not comfortable speaking in English. These are mostly elderly people whose children facilitate the consultation for them on their mobile devices,” she adds.
Thus, by enabling interactions in native languages for online consultations, we hope to be one step closer to turning our vision of building access to quality healthcare into a reality. Only by eliminating factors that impede equitable access to quality healthcare can we make a lasting impact. In fact, we are offering a unique solution that supports developing health equity through another important initiative.
Launch of online veterinary consultations
With virtual consultations becoming an integral part of healthcare in India, we are onboarding licensed veterinarians for pets’ healthcare needs. There are more than 20 million households with pets in India. What is more, a growth of over 40% has been observed in the adoption of puppies and kittens in India amid a work-from-home setting.
Launched in February 2021, it has already recorded over two lakh search queries from pet parents across 40+ cities in India. Even as cases where a physical examination is required will still warrant a visit to the clinic, this will enable timely advice for common but potentially harmful ailments.
As we work towards making quality healthcare accessible to a billion+ Indians, initiatives like these will enable us to make good on our commitment. By facilitating online consultations for a wider group of people and a larger set of specialities, we hope to harness current capabilities of teleconsultation.
And as a token of our commitment to building a fairer, healthier place, we’re also offering free online consultations today on World Health Day. While we still have a lot of ground to cover in attaining our goal of building an equitable healthcare system, these steps will be significant in delivering long-term value for all.