Speaking in an interview before the General Elections this year, Indian National Congress president Rahul Gandhi had equated digital data in India to oil and petrol riches of the Gulf. “What oil is to Saudi Arabia, data is to India and Indian healthcare data will shape global healthcare.”
Even though this insightful comment did not bring Gandhi much success in the election campaign, there is certainly more truth to it than many in India might have realised.
Currently, healthcare data in India is largely unstructured and available in a multitude of regional languages. With only 5% of healthcare data being collected in the country, an Asean Chambers of Commerce and Business Meet suggested this February that the government start collecting and structuring medical data from hospitals across the country in order to better treat illnesses.
Further, the impact of structuring and organising healthcare data can be seen in online consultations in the western markets, wherein the doctor gets remote access to patient’s history and profile, in order to support their diagnosis.
But inadequate and unorganised healthcare data is not the only challenge faced by the country’s healthcare system, high cost of quality healthcare, inefficient processes, and lack of doctors in remote regions of the country also proves to be a death blow to many each year. In India, the doctor to patient ratio in the allopathy sector stands at 1:1596 (far lower than the 1:1400 WHO standard) and the country is ranked 145 among 195 countries on the healthcare index.
Tapping the urgent need for improved healthcare data and quality access to doctors, telemedicine startups have sprouted in many cities in India. Practo, mfine, Lybrate, DocsApp and others help bridge the access gap in healthcare. One of the new entrants in the field is an InfoEdge and WaterBridge-backed MedCords.
Kotaf-based MedCords is a telemedicine startup with a particular focus on rural India. The company differentiates itself in the crowded telemedicine space through its unique approach of partnering with local pharmacies (or Sehat Sathis) to onboard patients and thereby leveraging their patients directory to onboard doctors.
The Sehat Sathis acts as touchpoints for patients to digitally manage their medical records, and access comprehensive virtual doctor consultations through smartphones or a telephone helpline. The health records collected at these points also enable MedCords to deliver healthcare insights using data science.
MedCords was founded by Shreyans Mehta, Nikhil Baheti, and Salda Dhanavath in 2016. The company claims to have reached users in 2.5K villages with online health profiles managing medical records for over 1.1 Mn patients, and have signed up over 1K doctors to its platform. At present, the company is operational in six districts of Rajasthan including Kota, Bundi, Baran, Jhalwar, Bhilwara and Tonk.
Commenting on the number of repeat customers, Mehta said, “On Medcords every one on three patients is a repeat patient. That is 33% repeat rate. For example, Medcords through its network served 229K patients in August, out which 85K were repeat users, while 144K were new.”
The revenue model for MedCords is based on customer payments made for doctor consultations, which is currently priced at INR 99 per consultation. However, this fee varies for a follow-up doctor consultation based on the fee specified by the doctor along with an additional 10% charge levied by the company. The digitisation of medical records is currently offered as a free service. However, the company does have plans to charge patients for this in the future.
Talking to Inc42, Mehta added that MedCords is in plans to soon launch a family subscription fee, which is expected to be priced under INR 1000.
(In Picture: Screenshots of Doctor’s insights panel on MedCords app)
Rural India Gets A Pharmacy Network
According to Inc42’s The State of Startup Ecosystem Report 2018, there are a total of 4,892 startups in the Indian healthtech space. Last year saw an overall increase of 45.06% in the total investments in healthtech startups. Overall, the healthtech startups in India raised a total of $504 Mn between 2014-2018, but these are largely based in urban areas.
MedCords has a network of 800 Sehat Sathis or pharmacies spread across rural and semi-urban India. According to Mehta, Sehat Sathis in rural areas join MedCords because it helps them to increase sales through repeat customer orders and medicine sales. It also allows them to expand the reach of their store.
In addition to this, Sehat Sathis also earn a percentage on online consultations and customer onboarding, which is a revenue stream that was earlier not available to these pharmacies. A single pharmacy earns around INR 10-15 per patient for making a digital profile, MedCords claims, while it gets an average of INR 100 from medicine sales. Further, the company shares 50% of its convenience fee on doctor consultations with these pharmacies, which is typically 10% of the fee charged by the doctor.
Further, Shreyans said, “Right now, a pharmacy is able to earn at least 10-15% more on top of their income. In September, we plan to increase income of pharmacies by at least 10K per month in rural areas and 25K per month in semi-urban areas.”
With an array of options for pharmacies and patients, MedCords is now in the process of adding a chat feature so pharmacies can connect directly with customers in urban areas where access to doctors is not as sparse as the rural parts but the need for data-based services still remain a concern. With this feature, pharmacies will be able to connect with their customers and coordinate among themselves on the availability of medicines, delivery, or periodic reminders on prescription refills. The chat feature is expected to be launched on the MedCords app by September 10.
Talking about the cost of acquisition, Shreyans said that it takes around INR 200 for the company to acquire one pharmacy. MedCords has deployed one sales executives in each district to help get more pharmacies on board, and get users to sign up and digitise their health records.
Enabling Data-Driven Medical Governance
It’s common knowledge that healthcare startups have to work closely with government agencies and institutions to help reach the market and get regulatory clearance.
MedCords is a digital health partner for the Smart City project in Kota, under which the company has shared a dashboard with the government to monitor trends of disease outbreaks in the areas where MedCords is present. Such data monitoring efforts have allowed the company to detect serious issues in areas and then, notify the concerned authorities on it.
The IBEF has estimated the Indian healthcare market to be valued at $372Bn by 2022. Such efforts in using data to bring actionable insights to the healthcare ecosystem will surely improve the healthcare quotient and bring maturity to the industry in India. With the rising disposable income and health awareness, as well as easier access to insurance coupled with lifestyle and stress-related diseases, there’s definitely a need to improve access and use digital tools to connect citizens with healthcare providers and businesses.
Correction Note | 22:30, November 8, 2019
Earlier version of this article mentioned the headquarters of Medcords as Pune, this was corrected to reflect that Medcords is headquartered in Kota and has its technology office in Pune.