Disruptive healthcare start-ups have entered nearly every conceivable service—from helping to locate the right doctor to delivering medicines at the customer’s doorstep—and most experts agree that the concept holds promise in India where a tech-enabled and aware market is ready to be tapped.

But over a year ago when Dr Rohan Khandelwal was approached by a cofounder of Curofy during the initial research concerning the app which is a “social network for doctors”, Khandelwal was convinced it would not work. He felt that “doctors have big egos”.

On persuasion, he went on board Curofy as the Head of Medical Affairs. For him the work on Curofy was an extension of what he had done and enjoyed doing even otherwise—teaching. As an Oncoplastic breast surgeon Khandelwal connects with 5,000 medical students every year on an average and he says this was “another motivation to reach out to them through the app”.

Curofy is a platform for doctors to connect and discuss or refer patient cases and stay updated with the latest medical news daily. Since its inception in 2015, Curofy is now a 75,000 plus community of verified doctors.

Khandelwal admits that the doctor community is indeed forthcoming in supplying answers to queries. “I have colleagues from Tata Memorial on Curofy where we discuss interesting and rare cases,” he says.

Dr Ila Jain, a pathologist, confirms the advantage of having expert advice at the touch of a button: “This exchange of knowledge helps me as I can share slides and seek expert opinion easily.”

Jain has also provided free online consultation but she explains it is valuable for specific branches of medicine where a physical examination is not required like dermatology, sexology, nutrition, psychiatry. Even pathologists are sought after as patients want to decipher their test reports online.

Another service that healthcare startups are exploring and expanding to are medicine home deliveries. A consultant at 1mg, an online pharmacy that delivers medicines to the customer’s doorstep, said that although the concept is useful, there are a few limitations to this service. “Online pharmacies can’t deliver medicines immediately and usually take up to a day. Then, you need prescriptions for everything. For instance, a patient who needs hypertension and thyroid medication will require a prescription to buy these every time he or she runs out of these pills,” the doctor says.

India and China are expected to be the largest drivers of mobile health apps in the Asia Pacific region.

Apart from delivering medicines, 1mg facilitates in getting doctor appointments and diagnostic tests, finds low cost substitutes for generic drugs with their composition and side-effects detailed on its website. So far it has more than 80,000 doctors on the doctor discovery app which was launched last year.

In fact, Practo, which was one of the first healthcare apps in India, started off as a doctor discovery platform before diversifying into several other services like Practo Ray, Practo Consult, and Practo Order (a product that is currently in pilot and will focus on home-delivery of medicines). Practo now has a database of 2 lakh verified healthcare providers, and even those in the profession for decades find it of use to manage and promote their practices.

Two and a half years ago when Dr Vijayaben Patel shifted to Ahmedabad from the remote Naroda, she had to re-establish her practice of over 30 years in a new city when she registered on Practo. Patel, an obstetrician, gynecologist, infertility specialist at Shivam Women Health Care, Ahmedabad, says, “Due to the easy search that facilitated online bookings, and the feedback and recommendations I received from patients, my visibility was increased and I survived in this city.”

Practising as an ophthalmologist for over 30 years at the Netrayatan Eye & IVF Hospital, New Delhi, Dr Vishal Grover swears by the review feature on Practo. “Once I call off my duty I log in to the app and study patients’ feedback which help us know where we are falling short and in turn good reviews help increase our visibility,” he says.

Grover is also registered on Lybrate, which offers online video consultations at a fee that patients can pay online. It also allows users to book diagnostic tests. Launched in 2015, Lybrate has over 90,000 verified doctors according to its website.

With a number of these tech-enabler healthcare apps and other innovations in mobile health, India as well as China is expected to be the largest drivers of mobile health apps in the Asia Pacific region. According to a PWC report, benefits like cost reduction, ease of access and the ability to access otherwise unavailable information are the biggest attractions of the mobile health apps for Indians.


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