The way Indians avail of healthcare and related services has seen a sea change in the last few years. From simply booking appointments for offline doctor consultations and buying medicines online, Indians (and the world) have progressed to comparing and buying healthcare services and packages online, and are even doing remote consultations with doctors over chat and video.
The first wave of change technology brought in healthcare was in the B2C segment. Now, B2B is ripe for disruption, and a number of healthtech startups are leveraging AI, data analytics, and other advanced techs to make quality and affordable healthcare services available to corporates.
One such player is HealthAssure, which claims to be a one-of-its-kind aggregator platform with a focus on primary healthcare, specifically meant to cater to B2B requirements. The platform, which offers “comprehensive solutions, from managing complex requirements of large institutions to providing customised plans for individuals,” says it has more than 3,000 centers and is present in more than 1,000 cities across India. HealthAssure also caters to the B2C segment.
Varun Gera, founder and CEO of HealthAssure, says he started the company to “address the gap that existed in the market for customers (B2B as well as individuals) needing better day-to-day healthcare and primary and preventive healthcare providers.” “In India, while hospitalisation and emergency treatment has matured over the last decade, the primary care segment, which is still largely fragmented, is gaining importance rapidly,” says Gera.
The company, which says it has technology in its DNA, says on its website, “We strongly believe in new ideas, innovations, and new ways to push the limits to make solutions easy and efficient. With technology at the heart of everything we do, we are able to integrate our network partners — across pathology, diagnostics, consultations, pharmacy, etc — and bring good health closer to you.”
Tapping Into The $40 Bn Primary Healthcare Market In India
According to a report by Deloitte, with increased digital adoption, the Indian healthcare market, which is growing at a CAGR of about 20%, will touch a whopping $280 Bn by 2020. And the revenue of India’s corporate healthcare sector is estimated to grow at 15% in 2017-18.
Gera, who has done in-depth research into the healthcare industry for several years, seems have realised the potential, and the needs, of this market before many others. He started his journey in the Indian digital healthcare market way back in 2011 when he figured that there weren’t any organised platforms for primary healthcare services — an industry poised to be worth $40 Bn as pointed out by HealthAssure, which still functions in a haphazard manner.
At present, HealthAssure’s primary business model essentially aims to consumerize primary healthcare with the help of technology and make quality services accessible to Indian corporates in the B2b segment. The model involves end-to-end management of employee healthcare programmes, assessment of healthcare gaps, and giving corporates access to a high-quality, discounted medical network.
HealthAssure provides companies and organisations access to credible primary care centres including the services of general physicians, cardiologists, dentists, and other specialists. Ankush Chatterjee, chief marketing officer and head of products at HealthAssure, points out that the company is a tech-enabled B2B healthcare startup and not the other way around. It has developed a unique Health Risk Assessment tool for assessing the health risk or status of individuals, which can also be customised for each individual, and accordingly, solutions can be provided.
With the world talking about the importance of mental health these days, no serious healthcare player can stay away from providing mental healthcare services. To this extent, HealthAssure offers an Employee Assistance Programme — a short-term and confidential counselling service offered to employees to deal with their personal problems.
For insurance companies, which comprise a large percentage of HealthAssure’s clients, its offerings comprise pre-policy checkups along with specialty networks like ophthalmology, OPD, dietician, and counsellor networks.
Challenges In Providing Consistent, Quality Services
HealthAssure today has more than 3,000 centers in more than 1,000 cities across India. While these numbers speak of exceptional success, they have not been easy to arrive at. Like any other startup, HealthAssure had its own set of challenges when it started out — from attracting the right talent to hurdles in establishing a vast network of healthcare providers.
The most difficult challenge, however, was to be able to cater to all of the customers at any given point in time. With most primary healthcare services available only in the brick-and-mortar model and having absolutely zero online presence, it was quite a task to reach out to more than 3,000 centres, assess the quality of their services, and get them on board.
HealthAssure realised that there was no easy route to do this and, hence, decided to get its hands dirty on the field. All the healthcare centres are manually assessed to check the quality of services.
The team makes sure that these centres function smoothly and have proper digital infrastructure so that it can keep track of the services and the patients. This evaluation method ensures consistency in service quality but is a hard model to replicate because of its labour intensiveness.
Like for all startups, investments were a crucial decision. HealthAssure is very cautious about pulling in investments. The investment decision is made solely on the basis of the necessity for funds. “You can see the reflection of this logical approach in our balance sheets, which reflect a steep growth curve,” says Chatterjee. HealthAssure has invested about $2-3 Mn in total from various investors such as Rajul Garg and Shuchin Bajaj and has received an investment of $1 Mn from The HR Fund this year.
We Plan To Service 3 Mn Customer By 2020: HealthAssure
As Gera says, “Our vision is and will remain to bring good health closer to everyone. In this endeavour, we are committed to investing $15 Mn over the next three years to create an efficient ecosystem in the fractured infrastructure of primary healthcare in India, so that more and more people can gain access to better healthcare and do so at significantly affordable rates.”
“We plan to have serviced 2.5-3 Mn customers by 2020 with this fresh round of investment towards the growth of our business,” he adds. Gera further explains that there is an increasing demand for preventive healthcare in the Indian market that he plans to tap into.
In the near term, the startup is working to improve its IT infrastructure and establish deeper network assets such as geographical and vertical expansion.
Preempting Competition From Deep-Pocketed B2C Peers
While all healtech startups in India chose the relatively easier path of catering to the mass market — direct consumers — Health Assure decided to swim into the unknown territory of the B2B market. The prominent players in the B2C healthcare market are Practo, Portea, Netmeds, and 1mg, among others.
Though this is a niche market, HealthAssure has managed to uncover an entirely new segment for healthcare aggregators. At the moment, there aren’t any other major players operating in the B2B space, but it won’t be long before the B2C giants find a way to explore this niche market, and all of them have heavy investor backing, unlike Health Assure.
So, how does HealthAssure plan to maintain an edge over these startups or traditional providers of primary healthcare services once it has competition in the B2B space?
The startup believes that despite limited resources, it has been able to differentiate from the big B2C providers in terms of the consistency and quality of services it offers on its platform.
To begin with, all the primary healthcare service providers listed on the HealthAssure platform are thoroughly verified. Besides, though the B2C players may have bigger networks, they don’t guarantee the quality of service being provided by doctors or other service providers on their platforms.
But HealthAssure continuously monitors the consistency and quality of the services offered on its platform. The team first manually assesses the infrastructure and quality of services provided by the primary healthcare centres (PHCs) it plans to bring on board. They also ensure that these PHCs have reliable internet connectivity and systems in place so it’s easier for HealthAssure to keep a track of the services and the patients.
Only once all these boxes are ticked, PHCs are officially listed on HealthAssure’s platform. After the onboarding, the startup maintains a database of the service providers to ensure optimal quality of services.
HealthAssure is also looking at implementing technologies such as AI and ML to expand its business. It plans to incorporate AI to map the customer journey with a view to improving the customer experience on its platform. It also plans to mine all the data it has collected so far to forecast customer needs and requirements. “This is something that will certainly help us get an edge in the long term,” adds Gera.
The Next Disruptor In Healthtech?
HealthAssure doesn’t believe in following trends or disruptors and adapting itself to the changing market. Rather, it intends to walk a few steps ahead and set trends in B2B healthtech services.
When asked about the next big probable disruption that is likely to pose as a challenge or an opportunity for Health Assure, Chatterjee replies,
“We won’t wait for the next big thing to happen and then follow suit; we want to be the disruptors instead, and drive the industry with our innovations.”
The healthcare and well-being sector is garnering a lot of attention from the startup world these days because of the urgency to deliver good services, digitally, and at a fast pace and at competitive prices. And companies such as HealthAssure are a critical anchor in bringing about this change as they bring the end consumer and the service provider closer, making it a hassle-free journey for both the parties.
HealthAssure’s reliable and consistent network of healthcare service providers and service monitoring differentiator is just what India’s healthcare space needs. And it might just help this B2B startup realise its vision of becoming a disruptor in the healthcare aggregator space.
Correction: HealthAssure was written as Health Assure. The error is regretted. This post was last updated at 2pm on June 4, 2018.