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Patna-based Healthtech Startup 'Medishala' Easing Medical Accessibility For Rural Population Of Bihar

A team of 25 enthusiastic and bright-minded individuals stand through thick and thin to make Medishala what it is.

Photo Credit :

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Incorporated in the year 2019, Medishala Healthcare is headquartered in Patna and is run by dedicated Co-founders - Suman Sourav, Rituraj Swamy, Mohammad Amanullah and Prince Kumar. 

It is common knowledge that the availability and quality of healthcare facilities in Bihar are, regrettably, in a very sorry state. The people most affected by this underdeveloped situation of our healthcare are those residing in the rural regions. 17685 patients to 1 doctor, this shocking ratio of Bihar's health sector speaks of the deplorable condition for itself. Even though the healthcare facilities in the urban areas are arguably better, it is simply too far off to be of much use to the rural population. The availability here does not do much to help accessibility. To make matters worse, there are rural areas frequently devastated by floods, creating scores of sick and even heavily injured, unattended patients.  

The desperate lack of advanced healthcare in rural Bihar was evident, although seemingly unimportant, a fact known to all until one day in the year 2014. It was very frequent for their friends to get calls from their relatives from different parts of Bihar, asking to schedule doctors' appointments for them in Patna. Numerous people in the rural area had no information about details such as a doctor's availability in terms of expertise, timings, fee etc. It was the collective whole of such recurring incidents that got them thinking. Here was definitely a gap which many start-ups working in the health domain had failed to identify. They began intense research into the health sector and after a couple of weeks' worth of research, approached their college professors to discuss the problem they had identified and to see what possible solutions they could come up with. “Why would you want to do this? There are big enough companies already dominating this market”. These words by their professors definitely affected them and left them feeling at least a little disheartened. However, their resolve was stronger yet and they decided to put in more effort than ever before for they believed that for a lot of people, these were important problems, not receiving their due attention. 

“Our search led us to discover that the companies which were working in the health domain had yet to effectively reach out to the rural population. The predicament of our relatives and acquaintances residing in these places was a known fact to us. The professors’ comments had established one thing for sure; the problem required further attention and delayering. Meanwhile, a buzz began going around the college campus about something like this being taken up by us, which attracted people's interest in the sector. A good number of people sharing our perspective eventually approached us and we soon became an informal group,” underlines Suman Sourav, Co-founder Medishala. 

The journey

Suman Sourav, Co-founder of Medishala, elaborates, "We started meeting once a week when everyone was expected to research and bring in ideas and suggestions to address the matter. A few weeks in, we conducted a formal documented research on the competitors and covered subjects such as their method of generating ideas, their approach to problems and challenges they faced in order to achieve reliable findings, reach concrete conclusions and get an actual idea of the market. It was very helpful to have started working on the idea while at college as this had provided us with access to an enthusiastic workforce in the form of students and professors. The core team members began visiting the field to get an actual idea of the situation and there discovered that the ground realities were quite dire, more than we had imagined. Patients and their guardians alike had to queue up in lines as early as 3 am for a doctor's consultation, sometimes only to discover that the doctor wouldn't be available. We found that about 70 per cent of the patients visiting city hospitals come from rural areas and that the majority of the patient base is deprived of essential health-related information and services."

"Our team headed by our Co-founder, Amanullah, decided that in our mission to reach out to the rural population the use of a technology-based approach would be absolutely indispensable. Amanullah notably suggested that if there could be apps for railway booking, movie ticket-booking, room-booking etc then why should not there be one for as essential a task as booking appointments at the doctors', which could potentially solve the problem of information asymmetry. This would result in limiting queues, and the people from far off villages wouldn’t have to return back unsuccessfully without receiving treatment, as they had to earlier because of lack of vital information. This would save them not only their energy but also their valuable time and the cost recurred in travelling. As soon as we had completed the primary groundwork, we began directing all our effort into realising solutions, keeping in mind the development of an effective and convenient app that could successfully cater to the needs of our rural people. We faced a lot of difficulties and often had to struggle through discouragement and disappointments throughout our endeavours. While we definitely have achieved an appreciable amount of success in our goal, we still struggle and have to keep reminding ourselves of the purpose for which we are here. We strive so that we can perhaps lessen the burden and difficulties of our people and bring relief and maybe even a smile to their face," Suman adds.

A team of 25 dynamic, enthusiastic and bright-minded individuals stand through thick and thin to make Medishala what it is. 

Medishala helps out troubled people in the rural regions to combat these trying situations and bridge the great gap between the healthcare facilities' standards of the urban and the rural areas. What makes Medishala stand apart is its genuine care for ailing people in the rural areas, mirrored by our cost-effective yet high-standard quality of our facilities provided via Telemedicine and Video conferencing. 

“The problems Medishala seeks to address are primarily of the nature of availability of high-quality treatment for individuals in the remotest of areas. It seeks to be able to do away with the norm of rural people having to pause their lives to travel long distances to see doctors. Our aim to bring doctors to the people, instead of the other way around, is coupled with our intention to keep the process as simple and inexpensive as it can possibly be,” states Rituraj Swamy, Co-founder, Medishala.

Market competition

As for Medishala's competitors, it wouldn't be too far from the truth to say that Medishala do not have any currently. Almost all of the healthcare sector is located in tier 1 and 2 and if not, tier 3 cities. The market in the rural areas is largely untapped by potential competitors and so it may be said that the startup enjoys a degree of advantage in this, at least for now. The company stands apart from its contemporaries in that it provides the rural population with quite a one-stop solution to all their health problems with ease of access almost at their doorsteps. Owing to the members' descent from Bihar itself, and having relatives who reside in several rural areas, the company has a core understanding of the ground reality of healthcare in Bihar, particularly in the villages. Having lived among the people, the firm seeks to serve, their understanding of the facts have been formed without any barriers or secondary media, a decidedly advantageous factor in the course of their efforts.  

Struggles

Since the team of co-founders were young and had yet to graduate, their families were hardly supportive of their seemingly 'spur of the moment' decision to start a venture and rather wanted them to get jobs, quite naturally. As a way to assure their families, the co-founders achieved placements and managed to prove to their families that they were very much capable of getting jobs and consequently requested to be allowed 2 years to focus solely on this venture. There were two other challenges, yet to be tackled - making the solution adaptable and making it accessible. Owing to the target market's rural nature, penetrating a tech-based solution was bound to be a tough challenge. Hence, the development team came up with the idea to inculcate ease of access within the product design. To cater to the various challenges, the software/website/app were developed both in the English language as well as the local language of the people. This allowed for minimal information to be fed in order to book appointments and consultations with the desired doctors. Regardless, the founding members were aware that no matter how simplistic the software design might be, the rural population's unfamiliarity with this new system would render it difficult for them to access and operate the system. 

Medishala Booking Centres

“Medishala Booking Centres was the solution, the team decided after minutely contemplating upon the matter. We collaborated with the pharmacies in the rural areas since people in rural areas, over consulting doctors, go to the pharmacies directly whenever they are in need of medicines. Medishala, in collaboration with the pharmacies, set up appointment booking centres where people could approach the pharmacies and the person running it would book the appointment on their behalf. Two years hence, Medishala has opened booking centres in more than 70 panchayats,” says Prince Kumar, Co-founder, Medishala.

Revenue generation and fundings

Medishala's sources of revenue include consultations, profit from medicines, lab tests, insurance, pathology checkups and arrangement of ambulance services. As far as achievements go, Medishala has managed to secure healthy and easily available healthcare facilities for our rural people against the traditional alternatives of 'quacks' who have been exploiting and simultaneously hazarding the lives of patients in the rural areas with their malpractices. Our guiding factor remains our aim for which we try our very best to avail people with proper medicines at nearby locations as well as provide them with at-home doctor's services, all at very reasonable prices. 

“Bihar is the place of our childhood days. It is the land where we have been born and brought up at. Our team at Medishala really wish to give back and feel a sense of responsibility towards this homeland of ours. Growing up in Bihar has intimately acquainted us with its superiorities and lacks in almost every aspect. The condition of the healthcare sector in the rural areas is very much a real problem in Bihar. The decidedly better healthcare facilities in the urban areas do little to solve this problem because of the factors of distance and cost,” asserts Mohammad Amanullah, Co-founder, Medishala.

Medishala is a self-funded company whose investment is owed to mutual arrangements which stand about 20 lakh rupees. Our future investment and funding plans involve seed-funding, aside from those to be made by investors. Our financial planning is based upon our hope to expand the company to serve as many patients as we can while keeping the monetary expenses of the ailing manageable. 

Aim

“Our aim for the future remains to develop up to more than 100 digital clinics and develop medical equipment within a span of 2 years. The intention behind this goal is to be able to provide better and more advanced treatment to all patients, besides making the entire process of availing healthcare cost-effective, less expensive and largely affordable to an even greater number of people while never compromising on the treatment quality. By the end of September 2021, we aim to set up about 40 digital clinics across Bihar. Medishala is supported and backed by Abhinav Kumar, Trivago Guy Fame, who is currently working as VP Product Marketing of Paytm and somehow it’s one of the best privileges for us,” explains Ranjan Mistry, Advisor and Mentor, Medishala.