30% people in rural India do not visit hospitals fearing expenses.
The Indian healthcare market is expected to reach $280 Bn by 2020, with a CAGR of 22.9%, from the current $100 Bn. However, the doctor-patient ratio in our country is 0.7:1000, well below the prescribed doctor-patient ratio of 1:1000 set by World Health Organization (WHO).
Karan Bedi and Abhishek Dwivedi found this as an opportunity to launch AlternaCare, a technology-driven healthcare platform to provide instant consultations over telephone, video call, SMS, and Whatsapp. Karan heads Eros Labs and is a strategic advisor to ErosNow. Abhishek is a serial entrepreneur who earlier launched SBD Solutions rebranded as Pristine Solar Energy after getting acquired by Pristine Group.
AlternaCare’s Alternatives: A Saviour For Time And Money
Based in New Delhi, the platform was launched in January 2016. It aims to be the first avenue for allopathy and homeopathy treatment for people around the world.
As shared by Karan with Inc42, teleconsultations will save up to three hours of travel and wait time for patients. Also, it will help the patients in better interacting with doctors on non-communicable diseases and second opinions.
Presently, the doctors on AlternaCare’s platform consult on a range of medical queries – colds/coughs, gastro issues, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, sexual healthcare and more. Post consultations, it sends digital prescriptions, maintains patients medical records, tracks patient’s health progress and also offers hassle-free medicine delivery options.
“Our key focus is on providing care and enabling easy access to doctors. A lot of our traffic comes from Tier II and III cities as the density of doctors per capita is much lower than the metros. We get calls from cities like Kanpur and Ballia in UP (Uttar Pradesh) and Siliguri in West Bengal etc,” says Karan.
Those who seek alternative and complementary treatment can also find a curated list of doctors on the portal. The portal currently has over 50 doctors including homeopaths, general physicians, gynaecologists, sexologists, dermatologists, gastroenterologists and ortho consultants.
AlternaCare currently has pan India operations. The portal provides 250 daily consultations on an average and to date over 20K patients have been healed on the platform.
It has a team size of 20 and charges a small fee from patients to generate revenue. It also raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding in May 2015 from Eros Labs – a venture cum incubation hub for launching ventures in the consumer technology space.
Eros Labs is the technology investment arm of Eros Ventures, the holding and investment company of the Eros Group. It was founded by Karan Bedi in 2014 and works on a unique partnership model – a combination of an accelerator and a startup. “Think of Eros Labs as a VC fund that funds its’ own ideas. So you can work across ideas. Or not. We give you the flexibility to continue to deep dive with a particular product and take it from version 1 to global scale,” says Karan.
Other companies in its portfolio include HouseOfGod, a platform that allows users to browse, discover and enjoy content across a multitude of faiths and religions, spiritual philosophies and gurus; and LookAtMe – a virtual stylist. Users can upload a picture of what they want to wear or are wearing and get expert feedback from stylists, designers and the fashion community at large.
Cashing In On Existing Gaps: A Billion Dollar Opportunity
Statistically, 70% doctors in India practice in the top 20 cities. As per 2014 data, the average cost for treatment in rural areas is INR 14, 935 and in urban areas is INR 24, 436. This implies that more than 30% Indians are deprived of even basic healthcare amenities.
“Interestingly, 39 Mn Indians fall below the poverty line each year because of healthcare expenses only.”
According to Karan, there are over 900,000 allopathy & 200,000 homeopathy doctors in India and there would be a shortage of around 600,000 doctors in the next 10 years.
“Also, homeopathy is the second largest system of medicine in the world today, according to WHO and is used by over 600 Mn people worldwide. Over 100 Mn people depend on homeopathy for their health and wellness needs in India, so the opportunity is huge,” he adds.
Further, Hospital In-Patient Care (IPD) accounted for approximately 81% of the healthcare delivery industry, or INR 3.1 Tn, in FY15, while Hospital Out-Patient Care (OPD) accounted for the remaining 19% or INR 0.7 Tn.
Challenges, Competition And Future Plans
Although AlternaCare offers video consultations with doctors, it often encountered bandwidth issues in the initial stages. “And that is the reason why we don’t have an app yet. Video consultation is still at a very nascent stage in India. We’re doing reasonably well for the web-only platform as a majority of our consultations happen through telephone,” says Karan.
AlternaCare currently competes with players such as Just Doc, Doctor Insta, Lybrate, and seeDoc, etc. Karan believes stringent quality checks and verification process of doctors, available expertise across a range of specialisations, personalised experience, are a few key factors which differentiate them from others.
“We focus on telephonic consultations rather than app downloads. Also, the patient’s number is linked with a unique ID on our platform. This helps to form concrete Electronic Medical Record (EMRs)/ Electronic Health Record (EHRs) for the whole family and especially for the population which can not afford a smartphone in today’s date,” adds Karan.
In the near future, AlternaCare aims to cross 2K consultations/day and provide 90 minutes medicine delivery and within 24 hours medical investigation at a doorstep. It also has plans to cater to other sectors such as Ayurveda, homeopathy, gynaecology, sexual, etc, across the SEA and launch its services in Africa and the Middle East.
The Innovative Healthcare Squad
The online healthcare space in the last decade has been largely occupied by players in appointment booking, medicine delivery, and cloud-based healthcare information systems. However, now a new brigade is gradually rising up and grabbing investors’ attention, with a focus on more niche areas, differentiating from the existing players.
For instance, Bangalore-based Tricog provides add-on hardware for ECG machines to interpret ECG data in 30-45 seconds. It recently raised Series A round of funding from Inventus Capital, Blume Ventures, and other angel investors. Doctor’s Circle is a platform where users get video answers to all health issues from the best doctors in India. Users can anonymously ask a medical query using voice/text, the team then reaches out to the best specialists for their query, gets it video answered and delivers to users through the app.
Buzz4health is another platform for doctors and medical students, which lets them collaborate through real medical cases and other continuous medical education content. Similar to this is eMedinexus, a digital advocacy platform for doctors, that bridges the need to network and educate doctors in a collaborative and discussion oriented manner.
Also, Ratan Tata recently invested in MUrgency Inc., a mobile app which makes emergency response available with just one tap on a mobile phone in under nine minutes in urban areas.
The overall funding in healthcare sector reached $258 Mn in 2015. This clearly depicts the level of maturity this segment has achieved. Even the niche areas within are cultivating and growing fast. With India going mobile-first, the need to get solutions instantly has made telemedicine one of the fast-emerging trends. This market in India is further expected to grow at a CAGR of 20% to reach $18.7 Mn by 2017. Globally, the telemedicine market is expected to reach $40.9 Bn by 2021 from estimated $17.9 Bn in 2015, at a CAGR of 14.77%.
Telemedicine allows users the opportunity and convenience to connect with high-quality doctors in an accessible and convenient manner from the comfort of home. And with the various services being offered on AlternaCare and its future plans, it seems to be on the right path to acquiring and retaining users while scaling up.