As Practo turned 13 years recently, we found ourselves combing through the timelines of some of the most defining moments that helped shape the company’s narrative. While we crossed many milestones in pursuit of our vision to improve healthcare access, there is no precedent for the efforts made over the last one year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
One such example was the massive exercise undertaken in May 2020 to enable free online doctor consultations during the national lockdown period. Monikered India Health Hour (IHH), various teams coalesced to form one unit to deliver a first-of-its-kind campaign that brought together some of India’s most experienced doctors to volunteer their time and expertise in making quality healthcare accessible to patients at zero cost.
“Even as medical establishments remained open during the lockdown, many chose to defer appointments and resort to self-medication for seemingly innocuous ailments,” says Shrikanth Laxminarayan, Senior Product Manager at Practo, who led this campaign with the dogged support of many. “We wanted to change that by encouraging people to consult qualified doctors online, and that was the genesis of IHH,” he adds.
Planning & Executing IHH
Unbeknownst to the challenges that a lockdown can bring, the medical industry faced a tightrope walk amid the pandemic to ensure that care was continuous and consistent. Although Practo was enabling online consultations for patients much before the viral outbreak, we had to recalibrate our approach to ensure that demand for online consultations was met by adequate support of doctors committed to deliver care virtually.
“We had to start from scratch, right from designing the whole campaign to developing the front- and back-end technologies,” says Shrikanth, adding, “We also had to ensure that the volunteer doctors are trained well and are adequately equipped to deliver effective online consultations on Practo.”
Despite the enormity of the undertaking, this was achieved in less than two weeks by a team of under 20 Practeons across functions.
However, no amount of planning could have prepared us for the challenges that lay ahead post-launch. Even as we carefully projected demand from patients for different specialties and worked around tight schedules of all volunteer doctors, we learned early on that we would need to improvise and restructure our strategy every single day for the campaign to be successful.
“To ensure that we delivered on our promise of free online consultations across specialities, we had to be ready with a mechanism whereby even if a volunteer doctor is not available at the committed time, we will still be able to offer a free consultation to the patient, even if it is at our own expense,” says Shrikanth. “We would prepare an intensive planning exercise daily to set these quotas to make sure that no patient went back without connecting with a doctor. Starting from 25 consultations an hour, we soon began fulfilling at least 500-600 consultations an hour as we worked through the campaign,” he adds.
Each day brought new challenges that were tackled head-on by sheer dint of collaboration, hard work and creativity. A dashboard was maintained to analyse daily activities, discuss outcomes and chart a way forward.
“Once the campaign was launched, our IHH work would start at 6pm after that day’s health hour was over,” says Shrikanth. “We would scan the dashboard for issues and summarize it. This would take about 2 hours, after which the relevant team would begin fixing the problem and plan for the next day. As a general rule, these issues were expected to be resolved before 11am the next morning. This would be followed by calls to volunteer doctors to confirm their availability for that day. This cycle would be repeated for several weeks,” he adds.
“Looking back, we can’t help but marvel at the cooperation extended to us by doctors who made this possible,” says Dr Ruchi Singh, part of the Doctor Relations and Engagement team who worked on IHH. “Getting a commitment of one hour every day from these doctors – some of whom are Padma awardees – is no mean feat. In fact, some of the senior consultants were quite excited about the campaign, and the prospect of being able to serve patients effectively even during a lockdown,” she adds.
The story of India Health Hour has been one of opportunities, challenges and wins. Today, as the country meets the challenges of the second wave of the pandemic, we are working on other initiatives to ensure that care is accessible, affordable and equitable.
One example is our ongoing campaign with Lifebuoy to offer free online consultations in places worst-affected by the pandemic. Starting with India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, we are enabling patients to seek medical help from a qualified doctor by simply giving a missed call on 9946999469. Launched on May 10, we’ve facilitated free online consultations for over 3,000 patients in UP in just a week’s time, and are charged to help many more.