To help more doctors with the diagnosis of patients who may test COVID-19 positive, Practo, the Bengaluru-based healthtech startup, has been focusing on ramping up its online consultation and telemedicine services.
For the past three years, the healthtech platform has shied away from the limelight and is believed to have been quietly working on streamlining its services.
However, since the beginning of March this year, when the pandemic hit India, Practo along with other healthcare platforms has been active in ensuring that they do their bit.
Increased telemedicine demand
“Telemedicine is the need of the hour, and it just isn’t about Practo or one healthcare platform, it is about everyone coming together and doing their bit,” Shashank ND, Co-founder and CEO, Practo, tells YourStory. COVID-19 Tests went live on Practo (for Mumbai), in partnership with Thyrocare. The tests will soon be available pan-India.
However, currently, the platform is focusing on only one thing – online consultation and telemedicine.
Queries regarding fever, cough, cold, sore throat and body ache have increased by 200 percent. Teleconsults on Practo have witnessed an average increase of over 100 percent per week, with 53 percent of all GP eConsults relating to coronavirus. Most of the queries come from people in the age group of 20 – 30.
Close to 50 percent of all teleconsult requests on Practo are received from Tier II and III cities. However, queries also come from Bengaluru, Delhi NCR, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, and, Chennai.
Gearing up the platform
“This meant gearing up the entire tech and engineering teams to focus on building robust and strong systems to take on the increased telemedicine load,” says Shashank.
Founded in 2007, Practo is one of the earliest digital healthcare platforms that started its operations with its B2B product – Practo Ray. The platform soon expanded to online consultation, medicine delivery, and hospital management systems. In late 2018, the startup also ventured into medical insurance services.
“We’ve increased our doctor base by close to 50 percent in the last four weeks so that access and continuity to care become less of a concern for Indians. It not only helps avoid gathering and overcrowding at hospitals but also keeps the medical staff safe if say an infected person shows up unannounced,” he adds.
What helped was the government formulating telemedicine guidelines. Explaining how telemedicine helps, Shashank says most doctors want to help but cannot see large volumes of patients. “Also, earlier with no guidelines, the doctors were unsure if it would work, and it had any legality. With the guidelines, the doctors too are more open to online consultations,” adds Shashank.
While telemedicine has been around for over a decade now, there were ambiguities around it. The guidelines gave much-needed clarity by enabling Registered Medical Practitioners (RMP) to provide consultations remotely, and at the same time, recognise digital technology’s role in making it accessible to masses.
The tech teams are now enabling other doctors and hospital partners to join Practo’s teleconsultation platform, so their patients can consult without having to visit their clinics/hospitals.
Training and product shift
“All doctors on Practo’s online consultation platform undergo a training exercise basis the protocols and guidelines prepared by a panel of senior experienced doctors from the Industry. We had also arranged training for all doctors, on the protocol to handle coronavirus symptom-related online consultations,” says Shashank.
He adds that training of the doctors is the most important aspect of telemedicine as they need to familiarise themselves with systems. Shashank says consulting a patient face-to-face, versus through chat or video is different.
“We need to have the best quality doctors online, but also ensure that they are ready in a short frame of time. Especially now with more people opting telemedicine, the need is to ensure that they get the best consultation without any glitches,” he explains.
The app also has a dedicated section to share most relevant, up-to-date, and reliable information about the infection – myths vs facts, testing centers, FAQs etc.
Moving it all to the home
“We have spent years refining each of the dimensions of our product, creating one of the best teleconsult experiences for both patients and doctors. The goal is to make the experience closest to an in-person consultation by enabling real-time interaction and ensure that patients have access to a verified doctor, at all times. ETAs are as little as 60 seconds,” says Shashank.
He explains that the tech and the engineering teams in the past few weeks have worked to provide comprehensive and accurate information about a healthcare provider/doctor, so that it helps the patient make a better choice on whom to consult.
“Qualifications of the doctors are listed along with their consultation charges so that they can either opt for a first-time consultation/do follow up consults, and even second opinions,” he explains.
There are two ways of consulting a doctor online on Practo:
1. Patients can go to the chat section, enter their symptoms and then Practo matches doctors specialised to deal with them.
2. Patients can choose to chat with the doctors of their choice (I’ve used GPs in Bengaluru as an example, you can select any).
“We have put security systems in place with strong technical measures and frequent vulnerability assessments and penetration testing,” says Shashank
One integral part of telemedicine is also ensuring that the patient can order medicines and lab tests, along with storing health records. With scaling up telemedicine, the team ensures that the doctor understands the platform in a way where they can view the entire patient history.
It maps the entire journey of a patient, right from booking an appointment, finding a lab, getting a second opinion, patient experience feedback, medicine reminder, to delivering medicine at the patient’s doorstep.
Present in over 20 countries, the platform records 18 crore patients annually, has over one lakh doctors on it, and over 70,000 partner clinics and hospitals.
“We hope to further ramp up our operations to add more doctors and bring in more users on the platform,” says Shashank.