The Practo Story: Building full-stack end-to-end online health solution for India

Shashank ND, the founder and CEO of Practo describes it as a hyperloop - full-stack health solution.

The healthcare sector in India has been changing in the recent times. The journey of someone sick and looking for treatment starts with finding a doctor, and then may also involve finding labs to get tests done, a second option, finding a hospital to get a certain procedure done, and recover while taking medications. Bengaluru-based startup Practo (iOS, Android) is trying to solve the healthcare problem, and claims to be the only one offering an end-to-end solution. Shashank ND, the founder and CEO of Practo describes it as a hyperloop – full-stack health solution.

According to Shashank, the problem with healthcare is no one has thought of an end-to-end solution because no entity spans healthcare end-to-end. Not even the government. Practo aims to connect the marketplace with a strong community of healthcare providers.

Founded in 2009, the company has grown by manifold, and today, it is connecting millions of patients to over 200,000 healthcare practitioners,  200,000 doctors, 10,000 hospitals, 8000 diagnostic centres and 4000 fitness and wellness centres on its platform. Practo has multiple products that serve as monetisation channel, and he claims that they will be instrumental in helping achieve profitability by next year. In fact, its certain parts are already profitable, he adds. But, healthcare sector is unlike other, and involves a rather emotional connect with helping patient recover and get back home healthy. So, here's the Practo story.

What led to forming Practo
It was back in 2008-09, when Shashank realised the need for a single platform that could help connect doctors and patients. Despite the common belief back then that doctors aren’t tech savvy, he felt that it was the need for a simple and efficient software that was the actual hindrance. This led to eventually building Practo Ray in 2009, a software that was designed from scratch for doctors. It helped with scheduling, calendaring, billing and managing the inventory for doctors. So brought to forefront the digital healthcare records that could be saved on cloud, assuring that consumers could reach out to their healthcare info anytime and anywhere.

“We kept it cloud based so that the doctors didn’t have to worry software updates, hardware requirements, data security and data backups. This allowed them to focus on what is important – their patients. Today it is used by doctors across the globe to manage millions of patients and their healthcare records every month. In India we hold over 90% market share amongst all doctors who use software to manage their practice,” he adds.

But it was in 2013 that the startup launched, a healthcare discovery platform aimed at consumers aka patients to find doctors, diagnostic labs for test, order medicines and even read healthcare tips and articles written in verified specialists. “We wanted to centre the industry around patients and wanted to offer them maximum choice, so we listed all doctors for free (post verification of-course). We also provide ease of access via Practo Consult, our online consultation platform as well as our trials with Practo Order for medicine delivery,” he adds. On the enterprise side, Practo offers OPD SaaS software to hospitals as well as the full HIMS solution as well.


Challenges in healthcare 

Shashank says that Practo didn't really face a challenge convincing doctors. Raher they were easily willing to adopt the solution. In fact, he adds, it were his first customers that gave many great ideas eventually included in the product. “Even today, we work very closely with providers and spend hours sitting in clinics and hospitals trying to understand how we can improve the software even more. We are lucky that our customers feel very involved with our products and hence email us great suggestions or areas of improvements every day,” he said.

While startups are emulating models that are successful in the US, but Practo doesn't have the option to learn from what others have tried because no one else has so far tried a full stack health-tech solution, he further adds.

But, arguably unlike other sectors, healthcare involves a lot of emotional and personal connection. “We work very hard to ensure we can help every one of the millions of consumers who use Practo every month. Whether it is a busy executive looking to consult online because he doesn’t have time to go to a doctor or a farmer in a rural village who wants to bring his wife to the city to get her treated – or even people in international markets who want to come to India because they can’t afford or find the treatment they need in their country,” he adds.

Another challenge comes when the company is growing quickly. In the past two years, Practo has grown from 10 cities in India and Singapore as its only international market to 15 countries, 100 Indian cities. It also has four acquisitions in its kitty. So the biggest challenge, according to Shashank, remains to deliver on customer expectations and fulfil the promise of a simpler, better, a more connected healthcare ecosystem even as they continue to scale and bring superior healthcare to more customers.

Its search platform that earlier had a few hundred thousand users in 2013 has now grown to 40 million appointments a year last year. This year the number is expected to be even more.

Being a startup in India and slowdown in funds

Shashank explains how entrepreneurs have existed for the past twenty years, but its the smartphone and Internet boom in 2011 that led to the big change. "We've witnessed about 10x growth in terms of Internet numbers in three years, and the mobile phones and Internet users have been the backbone of the surge in startups in India," he pointed out.

In addition, India is also an English speaking country that is also a huge benefit. However, there has been a sudden slowdown in funds that were once flowing into the Indian startup ecosystem, but many in the startup space believe the slow pace won't hurt the country's dream of becoming the startup hub of Asia.

"I think the current environment is great to support a vibrant start up ecosystem for the next 10-20 years," he adds.

"The Start-up Action Plan, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Bill, relaxation of financial and labour norms are some positive steps that the government has initiated to promote entrepreneurship in the country. We believe that it is a great time to be part of the growing economy like India where innovative ideas are flourishing and showcasing the potential talent that we have here and this will only grow stronger from here on," he adds further.

Changing the doctor-patient relationship

Over the years, we've known that awareness is essential in healthcare sector and so is right information and the right solution provider. Practo is helping patients by offering them a solution that will help them find the right solution provider. On the other hand, healthcare providers get easy access to digital history of the patient.

"We are able to help patients make a better choice on who is the right provider for them. By offering a complete history to the healthcare provider due to the digital records patients trust us with, we are able to seamlessly provide detailed history to the provider (if the patient wants us to) and this leads to exponentially more accurate diagnosis and better treatment , resulting in fast recovery," he adds.

If you've been using Practo, there are a host of reviews and rating for each solution provider that one can browse through before choosing the right doctor. The transparent feedback system by patients has tons of stories out there to help, guide and make decisions. Healthcare sector isn't the way it was a decade ago, anymore. There is a change in the way a patient-doctor relationship works.

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Certain parts of Practo’s business are already profitable and claim to be track to achieve full profitability by next year.

Healthcare tech industry and generating revenue

Practo claims to follow an asset light strategy and its products and the deep penetration and integration across key healthcare sectors ensures a vibrant business model with healthy margins that has helped put Practo on the road to profitability in the short term. In fact, certain parts of Practo’s business are already profitable and claim to be track to achieve full profitability by next year.

Some of its products include cloud based clinic management software Practo Ray for doctors that digitises the entire practice management. Doctors and clinics pay an annual subscription to use the software. It claims to have over 90 percent market share here. Ther's the Qikwell by Practo, an OPD SaaS solution to help manage the outpatient department for the hospital helping them streamline patient management and online booking. With customers in over 15 countries using the solution, Insta by Practo is a complete HIMS solution for hospitals. Practo Tab comes loaded with Practo Ray. Doctors again pay an annual subscription for Ray and the Tab. Finally, Practo Reach is a hyper local targeted ad platform for establishments (hospitals, diagnostic centers and clinics) to advertise to the relevant consumers. However, individual doctors cannot advertise on Practo Reach.

Company culture 

Practo has a a 'do-great' culture which means a person wants to be the best at whatever they do, says Shashank. “I believe in a passionate, super-flat, meritocratic organisation. I don't believe in average or good, I believe in great. At Practo, we look for people who want to solve humanity's biggest problems — who have a purpose — those who want to leave the world better than they found it. I think meaning and impact are the things that keep people going. I think this is what makes people want to come to work every day,” he adds.

Practeons, as he refers to his team, believe in helping the world by making a positive difference in people’s lives. And, that's exactly what he looks for while hiring employees. Someone who is ready to try and do something new, and not emulate an existing model. It recently received a 100% rating on Glassdoor, which Practo believes is a reflection of the strong leadership at Practo.

"Building a business and building a startup are two different things. Building a startup is like building a business on steroids. You have to scale up and move fast. India has a lot of fundamental problems, but India also has a lot of hard working and smart people who can solve these tough problems. They need some capital and some support. Luckily we have the right society fabric as well as the right governance model that gives us the freedom as individuals to go solve those problems, " he points out.

Plans for 2016

Practo's plans for 2016 is to continue to focus on the ‘full stack’ hyperloop strategy. "We will further strengthen our enterprise segment where we’re seeing incredibly strong demand for our software, hardware and marketing products. In fact, with such volume of enterprises coming online on our platform, this is frankly the first time anywhere in the world that so many large Enterprises, SMEs and consumers are all on the same platform, this will fundamentally disrupt healthcare access and delivery. Additionally, we are strong believers in acquisitions. Today, we are on the lookout to acquire or invest in more futuristic technologies such as AI, machine learning, genome technology and others," he explains.

The company is also planning to explore new regions. The startup plans to expand to 100 cities in India, and is launching more cities in Philippines and Indonesia, expanding to more areas within Brazil and other countries across South East Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Eastern Europe.

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