Electronic medical records and sufficient information about doctors are two pain points that Sequoia Capital-backedPracto Technologies has tried to solve through its indigenous software products
In early 2008, Shashank ND was frantically getting together his father’s medical records and scanning them. He wanted to get a second opinion from an American physician, for an operation that his father was about to undertake. If that’s not bad enough, he was also unable to access enough information about the doctor, to make an informed decision before putting his father’s life in the doctor’s hands.
While most of us experience such agonising moments of indecision and helplessness, this incident urged Shashank and his classmate Abhinav Lal to set up Practo Technologies Pvt. Ltd (Practo). The duo founded the company in Bengaluru, in 2008, when they were still college students. “We dream of a day when every patient has access to all his medical records, when he/she can seamlessly find and choose a new doctor through informed decision-making and be able to pass on medical history and records at a click,” shares Shashank. In July 2009, Morpheus Venture Partners provided an undisclosed amount of seed funding and in July 2012, Practo raised Series A from Bengaluru-based Sequoia Capital.
One Step at a time
“We first started with Practo Ray, a software that helps doctors manage their clinic efficiently. It provides electronic medical records to ensure a technology-enabled health care ecosystem where the patient is cared for in a better way,” says Shashank.
Practo Ray is a subscription-based, automated SAAS product that clinics and healthcare providers use to manage their practices. It helps clinics communicate with the patient, schedule appointments, and create, store and share electronic medical records of patients. It also helps manage clinical administration in terms of status of equipment, availability of medicines, and finances. “Ease and simplicity are the two underlying principles to encourage technology adoption in the clinics,” notes Shashank.
Practo then went about making doctors and information about them more accessible to patients, to help patients make informed decisions. The experience that led to the genesis of Practo was key in defining how this piece would play out. “From the outset we were clear that we wanted to be ‘Patient First’ – our product design, business model, approach to market and everything else is built around putting the patients’ interest first,” says Shashank.
Practo.com, which is Practo’s patient facing website, allows patients to search and find doctors by specialisation and locality. Practo.com helps patients make an informed decision by providing critical information about the doctor, like qualification, experience, services offered and clinics managed. It also allows patients to look at available appointment slots and book an appointment online.
The portal is free both for patients, who search and book appointments online, and clinics, hospitals and healthcare providers who are listed on the site. Practo.com monetises the traffic that comes on its website through advertisements that users click on. Similar to the Google model, while listings and rankings are unbiased, clinics and service providers can buy advertisement slots, which are featured on the side.
The last step is where clinics and doctors create electronic medical records and maintain patient history, which patients can use to search, discover and book appointments on the web.
The two hats
Technology and marketing are the two legs of any product organisation. Being a young venture, in the initial days, each employee at Practo was doing one of two things – coding or selling. “Even when we were two people strong, we used to measure the number of lines of codes written in a day and number of meetings done in a day. This ensured that we were completely focused on the most important aspects of the company,” recollects Shashank. Therefore, one unwritten rule was never to write a line of code, unless it was paid for. “This meant we sold first and coded later. This strategy helped us build only those which delivered value for the customer and not just based on a request,” adds Shashank.
The third aspect was in getting the right team in place. “It is challenging to attract the best talent and retain them. The culture of the company plays an important role in ensuring that attrition is in check,” he opines.
Some of the learnings from this period of growth were: team is everything; growth is the only oxygen for a start-up, never slow down; and focus should be to align the entire company behind the vision.
Recruitment poses the biggest challenge while scaling up. “We are working round the clock to identify and recruit the best individuals for sales and other functions. We are finding it extremely challenging to be able to recruit good engineers fast,” admits Shashank.
Practo was a first of its kind in the clinic segment in India. Though numerous players have come into the space since then, Shashank believes that Practo’s razor sharp focus on product quality and support has enabled it to maintain a lead. “We have consistently had 85 per cent to 90 per cent happy support ratings on our customer queries. Every ticket and query is tracked and resolved within a set internal service-level agreement. Customers rate each interaction and give us a rating,” he explains.
The second factor is that growth and brand awareness has primarily happened because of word of mouth, references and testimonials from customers, most of whom are leading opinion leaders and influencers in their field. Shashank supports this statement with data: Practo Ray has over 40,000 doctors on the system; over 10 million electronic patient records (doubling every year) have been created, and over six million unique patients and over 7.5 million appointments are being made every month.
Practo.com has over 95,000 doctors listed from over 310 Indian towns and cities, with comprehensive coverage from Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune and Singapore. It has over 1,50,000 appointments booked over last two years, with traffic growing at 24 per cent per month.
The company has seven offices, in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Singapore. Though an online solution, the physical presence in different cities enable the Practo team to create awareness among doctors and clinics about how it can transform their processes and grow without pain.
The ground training and support team also goes street-by-street and building-by-building to map all clinics and healthcare providers in a city. “We got a lot of initial traction from the dentists, where it has become the de-facto clinic management infrastructure. With time, our product has started getting a strong pull from paediatricians, dermatologists, gynaecologists and other practitioners,” he adds.
The next five years is about benchmarking each piece to global standards, as has been the case with Practo Ray in Singapore and then connecting the dots and scaling globally. The plan is to focus on each piece and strengthen each line of business.
Concept in brief :
Long waiting time, no access to past medical history, and poor information about doctors are some of the problems that Practo aims to resolve through its products – Practo Ray and Practo.com. Started in 2008, in the college hostel that the founders Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal shared, Practo was inspired by Shashank’s own futile attempts to access information that would help him take an informed decision. Once they decided on their goal, they went about it cautiously, coding only when paid and doubling up as marketing executives when not coding. Practo today has offices in all major cities in India, and in Singapore, and has an impressive listing on its portal. But, for the two, the greatest satisfaction is in meeting their goals and making patients’ lives easier even when improving efficiencies of the clinics.
Practo Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
Founders: Shashank ND and Abhinav Lal
Focus: Clinic automation
Investors: Morpheus Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital