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Shashank ND, CEO & Co-Founder, PractoPracto
Practo’s online consultation has seen a 10x growth in the last six months
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There are over 25,000 verified doctors providing online consultations which is a growth of over 1000% in just four months: Shashank ND, CEO & Co-Founder, Practo

Practo’s online consultation has seen a 10x growth in the last six months
  • The lockdown gave an unprecedented push to the healthtech sector where more and more people got comfortable with the idea of not just ordering medicines online, but also consulting doctors on virtual platforms.
  • We talk to Shashank ND, CEO & Co-Founder, Practo who shares what kind of growth the startup witnessed in the past few months and what the future of the industry will look like.
The Covid-induced lockdown that led to the entire country getting stuck at home has now led to huge behaviour changes. While many of these changes might go back to being the way they were pre-Covid, many might just stick.

One such behavioural change we believe is here to stay is the increased adoption of telemedicine and online consultations. Considering people could not visit their doctors or hospitals, the Indian healthcare sector had to innovate, and fast. This gave a massive push to the healthtech sector.

The same people who weren’t comfortable buying anything online have now become accustomed to using online platforms for buying everything from essentials and non-essentials to even talking to their doctors.

While the telemedicine sector has been around in India for a few years now, this was perhaps the push it needed. And the results are already showing as Shashank ND, CEO & Co-Founder, Practo tells us.

How the lockdown impacted Practo

While Practo was founded in 2008 and has been continuously growing in the last couple of years, the last few months saw a lot of new users coming onto the platform.

About how things have been for Practo, which calls itself a ‘one-stop shop for all your medical needs’, Shashank tells us, “COVID-19, though unparalleled in its reach and the extent to which it has upended the lives of billions across the globe, also provided the push necessary for India to embrace telemedicine. As people remained homebound amid the lockdown, it became imperative to solve the critical problem of healthcare access without putting the patients’, doctors’ and healthcare workers’ lives at further risk. Online consultation, thus, became the first port of call to offer the much-needed impetus amid this crisis.”

Currently, Practo has close to 25,000 verified doctors who provide online consultations on its platform. “This is indicative of growth to the tune of over 1000% in just four months. These doctors enable us to provide consultations anywhere, anytime - even at odd hours, weekends and holidays. The objective is to further increase this number to keep up with the growing demand on the platform,” shared Shashank.

Patients have responded with equal gusto, Shashank further shared. More and more people are now preferring online consultations. Practo’s online consultation has seen a 10x growth in the last six months.

What is also encouraging is the fact that many of these users are first-time users and also from smaller cities. “What was considered a luxury just a few months ago, has become a necessity today. In fact, 80% of all our telemedicine customers were first-time users, while approximately 50% consultations were from non-metros. But what really stands out is the high CSAT score of 90% (i.e., more than 90% of users rate Practo 4 and 5). This places a massive responsibility on us to continue providing support to improve existing services and create better ones; our top priority remains delivering on our mission to make quality healthcare accessible and affordable for all,” he added.

Practo also runs a service called Prime that gives users benefits like low wait times and 24*7 service, among other services. About how the offering has helped not just consumers but hospitals and clinics too, Shashank said, “As restrictions began to ease, hospitals and clinics felt a need for a service like Prime, whereby patients can book an appointment in advance, more than ever to avoid overcrowding in waiting rooms and enforce social distancing better. Patients too prefer making appointments in advance to reduce wait times. So, it's no wonder that appointment booking has started to pick up again and is almost back to where it was in early February. Hospitals and clinics are rethinking how they operate in the light of COVID-10 and prepare for a future to keep patients out of waiting rooms. Practo Prime has emerged as a suitable option to bring more predictability and discipline in how we see doctors. While on one hand patients get access to predictable wait times and convenience of booking appointment with doctors 24*7 online, healthcare providers can manage their calendars and schedule appointments more seamlessly, so as to keep waiting rooms clear and uncrowded.”

Is the consumer's behaviour change here to stay?

During the last few challenging months, online consultations provided uninterrupted access to quality healthcare for a lot of people who jumped onto the digital bandwagon. What was heartening to see was also the fact that it was not only people from metros who were adapting to this new world order and adopting online healthcare.

On whether there’s been a surge in the number of people coming onto their platform from smaller cities, Shashank said, “Absolutely. Currently the split is around 50:50 between metro and non-metro cities. These numbers were highly skewed a few years ago, when we had just begun. In the pre-covid era, close to 70% of the online consults on Practo were only from metros. But, the pandemic has narrowed down the divide quite quickly, and in the three months since March 2020, the ratio is nearly 50-50. This is mainly because the challenge of accessing verified doctors in smaller cities has further increased due to social distancing and lockdown. Patients from cities like Hoshiarpur, Karnal, Bhimavaram, Katni, and Durgapur have been actively consulting online on our platform and a large part of them are first time users.”

So is this change in behaviour here to stay? Shashank added, “The pandemic has set the wheels of change in motion. But this is a long-term process, and change will not occur overnight. There is an evident behavioural change in the way individuals have started accessing healthcare in our country. This shift, which is a necessity now, will prove useful in its widespread adoption in the country. With the smartphone users in Indian poised to grow to 500 million by 2025, this transition will be smooth and swift.”

Areas of focus for Practo

For the last 12 years, Practo says that it has been working towards solving three critical needs of the Industry, Quality, Access, and Affordability. Till now, its core focus has been on building an environment of trust, transparency and reliability in healthcare.

Going ahead, Shashank puts together a list of the organization’s areas of focus:

1. Patients’ overall wellbeing - building a patient-centric healthcare system of tomorrow

a. We’ve helped people manage illness so far, we want to now help them stay away from it too through telemedicine

2. Continuum of care

a. The future of the healthcare Industry is patient-centric, integrated and preventive and for that it requires a good blend of offline and online, and we’re determined to work towards that to offer continuum of care to users. Practo health plans are a good example in that direction. As we look at our strategy going forward, driving exceptional consumer value and serving existing as well as the next set of 200 million consumers would continue to be our top priority. To that affect our roadmap would be:

3. Highest quality of health outcomes

With the objective of attaining the highest quality in medical care,

a. We will double down our efforts on ensuring no one except Registered Medical Professionals (RMPs or qualified medical practitioners ) have access to our platform, thus actively fighting all forms of quackery and enabling access to only genuine, verified doctors.

b. Onboard more senior doctors to help train, and monitor quality of consultations facilitated on our platform.

c. Launch new initiatives to solve for challenges on lack of clarity around various specialisations and qualifications.

4. Equitable access to quality healthcare, from Bengaluru to Barsi

For greater participation, especially from smaller towns and tier 2 and 3 cities,
a. We will build a multilingual interface that will expand access to quality healthcare,
b. This will also enable interactions in native languages, bringing quality care to remote locations.

5. Continuous care over episodic intervention
In order to ensure care is connected, on-demand and synchronous, we will:
a. Double our focus on digitization on the provider-side to make care-giving seamless,

b. Simultaneously, we will make healthcare patient-centric and preventive.

6. Build a sustainable, resilient healthcare system and business
To attain our goal of sustained profitability and make a lasting difference, we will:

a. Harness technologies like AI to increase operational efficiencies and improve user experience,
b. Optimize our processes and integrate systemic improvements to create a scalable and sustainable business model that will deliver long-term value for all,
c. Capture next 200 million customers by continued focus on expansion and growth.

He also added that Practo will continue to focus on is mission to empower, support, and enable healthcare access to all without exception. “We will concurrently be optimizing our processes and integrating systemic improvements to create a scalable and sustainable business model that will deliver long-term value for all,” he explained.