About four years ago, a young IT student was literally struggling to cope with a medical crisis that had befallen his family. His father had to undergo a knee-replacement surgery at a short notice and he was left with the arduous task of finding the best doctor, getting an appointment and finally, sending all relevant documents in the digital format (not an easy task either, considering the pile of medical reports â€“ all on paper â€“ to be scanned and mailed).
For Shashank ND, that was the turning point and he went on to set up Practo Technologies, a Bangalore-based startup offering clinic management software solutions to help enhance the operational efficiency of dispensaries, clinics and even small hospitals. Practo is currently operating in eight Indian cities, looking to expand pan-India and has opened a branch in Singapore only last week â€“ with further plans to enter mature overseas markets like the US.
But what had induced Shashank to come up with the concept in the first place?
"Personally, I was not happy with the way patient appointments were handled at these facilities," says Shashank, who co-founded the company with his friend Abhinav Lal in 2008. Both Shashank (CEO of Practo) and Abhinav Lal (CTO) did their B.Tech in IT from the National Institute of Technology in Karnataka.
"At times, appointments get delayed, leaving patients in the lurch. Managing huge bundles of medical reports is another headache as many of our medical facilities don't have the system to keep digital records. Practo essentially addresses these issues. We aim to provide doctors with a better technology to manage appointments and make doctor-patient interaction easier and better," adds Shashank.
Boosting healthcare operations via SaaS
Practo (a Techcircle Fastrack company, more on that here) is currently offering three solutions including its flagship product Practo Ray, a SaaS tool for appointment scheduling and maintaining patient data â€“ digital data that can be accessed from anywhere. Other products are Practo Virtual Receptionist, a cloud telephony for doctors that provides a dedicated health line for handling patient calls round the clock, and Practo.com, an online platform for patients to get started on doctor search, based on location and specialisation.
Practo Ray currently manages 10,000 appointments a day while 8,000 doctors at 5,000 dental, wellness and other healthcare centres across India are using the service. On the other hand, Practo Virtual Receptionist makes the doctor-patient interaction much easier. "Depending on time and availability, calls from patients are directly connected to the doctors," Shashank explains.
"Our USP is that we effectively solve all problems faced by doctors in terms of patient appointments and maintaining digital reports," he says, admitting that the healthcare ecosystem still offers lot more opportunities for the company to explore.
"We have adopted the SaaS model for our business as it is more suitable for our clients, majority of them being SMEs. We charge the clinics or doctors on a monthly basis," he adds.
The charges, however, vary, depending on the number of appointments and location. For Indian clients, Practo charges Rs 2,999 for 2,500 appointments a month while for 1,000 appointments, the cost is Rs 1,699. For overseas clients, the charge is Rs 999 for 500 appointments and Rs 699 for 200 appointments.
Interestingly, India is currently witnessing a spurt in SaaS startups who offer a wide of range of pay-and-use software tools in Internet cloud â€“ extremely convenient and cost-efficient for the small and medium business segment that may not be keen to install expensive software.
However, Practo is not the only company in this niche space. Hyderabad-based DoctorsTime Health Services offers similar services â€“ enabling one to fix appointments with doctors, get alerts regarding the next check-up, keep health records online and engage escorts for elderly patients who need assistance.
Growth plans â€“ pan-India & global
Practo is currently operating in eight cities including all major metros, as well as smaller cities like Pune and Nagpur. In each location, it has appointed a couple of resources to reach out to more people.
"With a high local penetration, we hope to triple our sales team this year. Plus, we are looking to go global. We have opened a branch in Singapore last week and within the next 6-12 months, we will enter mature markets like the US," details Shashank. "Our primary focus is the Indian subcontinent, though, and by the end of this month, we will be operating in more than 20 states," he adds.
This also means the company is looking to scale up its team and wants to more than double its headcount by next year. "We were just about 10-15 people when we started. We are 100 now and we will add around 250 more people by next year," says Shashank.
Thanks to its aggressive growth drive, the startup claims to be clocking 3x revenues every year and targets to double its revenues by the end of the current fiscal. Practo expects to break even by 2014.
Yet, unlike other startups, Practo is not targeting the Indian market alone. "We are investing more money to capture new markets, especially the US market, and gain a good market share," says Shashank. The company has already raised $4 million (Rs 25 crore) from Sequoia Capital this year in a Series A funding and the fund is adequate to take the company to the next level, he feels.
But why does the company target more mature markets like the US?
According to Shashank, the US offers highly developed medical technologies but there is ample scope to explore the healthcare management space and one also gets good pricing. "Our market is a bit tricky as people expect awesome products at cheap prices and keeping them happy is a tedious task," he says. Shashank also feels that the go-to-market strategy is more physical here in India. "In developed markets, it is more online than offline and there's more scope to scale up," he affirms before signing off.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)