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BW Businessworld

A Doctor For All

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Many go to hospital only to find that their insurance cover is not enough to meet the expenses of the medical procedures. So they have to take a loan to pay for hospital expenses. The National Sample Survey Organisation of India says that 32 per cent of rural India and 22 per cent of urban India were in constant debt. About 20 per cent of long-term household debt involves paying off hospital operation expenses and medical bills.
Enter "DocTree", a platform that puts power right back in the hands of the patient. This startup allows patients to upload their ailments (scans and images), on their website and connect them to the hospital ecosystem, which tries to treat the patient at the cheapest possible rate. The patient selects the hospital that offers the best price for care with a reputed doctor. "The power is in numbers. We are creating a database of patients, whom the hospitals cannot ignore," says Srinivasan Narayana, CEO and founder of DocTree. He says that it brings down the cost of care because doctors bid for the patient and offer to treat the patient at the lowest cost in the many hospitals that they consult. Therefore, it is in the interest of the hospitals, to engage and retain their doctors in providing care at lower prices, rather than losing the patient to a competitor. Today hospitals want higher revenues by increasing the number of procedures. The platform provides scale for hospitals and increases the reach of care in the country," says Narayana.
The platform is open to different hospitals and doctors to subscribe to. This 18-month-old startup has currently added more than 40,000 patients and over 30 hospitals in Bangalore alone. It has got angel funds of $8,00,000 from a high net worth individual. Narayana conceived the idea when he was a doctor in a large hospital chain in India. His premise is that patients do not know what they pay for in the hospital and sometimes end up paying a lot for no reason. He cites this problem with an example of an operation in the gynaecology department. "Once I saw a doctor bring in 18 students to watch a c - section operation. The eighteen students had gloves on; all of which got billed to the patient," says Narayana. He adds that the DocTree platform would give the exact pricing of the care, including room rates, to the patient after the hospital was chosen on the platform.
"There is an increase in startup activity addressing various citizen needs such as health and education. These businesses need to scale quickly," says Krishnakumar Natarajan, CEO of Mindtree, the $500 million IT services company and also a mentor of several startups.
Lybrate, Practo, Portea and Healthifyme are several startups that can offer value add services with the DocTree. These startups offer nutrition services, post and pre-care services with doctors. Each of them focuses on a niche grey area and are addressing them. Lybrate raises $1.23 million from Nexus, meanwhile Practo raised $30 million in series B funding from Sequoia and Matrix Partners. Portea has also raised $8 million from Accel Partners and Qualcomm Partners.
If the money keeps rolling in then health care startups are in for a $500 million valuation in a couple of years. The most important thing is that it solves the purpose of delivering health care services, at a lower cost, over mobile phones. At least that is the quest for several of these entrepreneurs.