Tracing the journey of a healthcare tech startup

The rapid evolution and technology and regulation in recent years has had a huge impact on how healthcare is organized and delivered. According to Ayush Bharti, the CTO of OurHealthMate, an online marketplace for healthcare services, two trends will define transformation in the healthcare space in the coming years: the emergence of health-centric IoT devices, and the centralization of healthcare data across different platforms.

While there has long been discussion about the healthcare industry’s resistance to adopting new technology for reasons ranging from cost to the time and difficulty of adopting certain technologies, Bharti says this all depends on whether the healthcare industry sees technology as a value-add or a cost.

“As the amount of available data increases and the use of those data sets become clearer, a larger percentage of players would realize the benefits of technology adoption. We’re already seeing a host of devices capturing healthcare information like heart rate, sleep cycle, distance walked and climbed, blood pressure, and so on. The emergence of healthcare data platforms like Apple Health and Google Fit will make this transition easier by centralizing healthcare data in a handful of platforms,” he says.

Healthcare tech potential high in Asia

Growth in the sector will be particularly apparent in Asia, where technology-enabled healthcare is still in its nascence. “There will be huge growth in this sector, primarily because of the emergence of large multinational healthcare providers, increasing technology adoption, and standardizations around healthcare information, services, and record-keeping,” says Bharti.

The rising internet access in Asia has led to increased availability of healthcare information, prompting people to start treating healthcare as a service, researching their own conditions, doctors whom they visit or are referred to, as well as their diagnoses. While this has led to an explosion of both supply and demand for healthcare information, Bharti avers that finding a reliable source of information continues to be a challenge for patients.

It’s this gap that OurHealthMate seeks to fill. Through the initial stages of the app’s development, Bharti shares the company saw two underlying phenomena: “People want to play an active role in the care of their loved ones, and healthcare decisions are often made at the family level and not the individual level. Our priority is to enable those using our service to be an active part of their family’s care, even when they live in different places.”

Meant to bring healthcare providers to its customers’ fingertips, the OurHealthMate portal enables its users—which comprise both patients and, largely, individuals looking to provide proper healthcare for their family members—to find, book and pay for healthcare services from the company’s network of 16,000 doctors and 7,000 centers in over 450 cities across India. What started out with only two people in 2013 has since grown its team significantly, expanding its operations in Singapore, Bangalore, Delhi, and Manila.

OurHealthMate, which currently caters largely to the Indian market and has recently rolled out a pilot in the Philippines, earns primarily by charging healthcare providers a transaction fee for appointments provided through the marketplace. According to Bharti, the portal adds the greatest value to customers and patients in markets having three key commonalities: high out-of-pocket expenses, a large private healthcare sector, and people living away from their loved ones. “India and Philippines match these perfectly and have the largest expat populations in the world. If you look at the remittances markets, India receives $76 billion in annual remittance out of which $10 billion is for healtchare. Similarly, the Philippines receives $25 billion annually out, with $5 billion for healthcare. We’re rolling out a pilot in the Philippines, but we do have our eye on other markets in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia that have those three core factors,” he says.

The brave new world

Healthcare isn’t the only industry facing change due to smart devices, with the Internet of Things presenting huge growth opportunities across a wide range of sectors. The challenge, Bharti says, is for companies to ensure they are able to transform their business to keep up with the quickly changing technology landscape.

One of the challenges relating to disruptive technology, says Bharti, has been bridging the “language gap” between technology teams and the end-user/enterprise. “This plagues many businesses—I experienced it firsthand working as a business analyst in a large multinational bank. We didn’t want to have the same problem at OurHealthMate. We found an elegant solution to this problem—we ensured that those helping build OurHealthMate relate to it on a personal level, as a user as well. This worked really well for us, resulting to a team that is engaged with our offering and proactive in suggesting new features and services to add on our portal,” he says. As for getting doctors and clinics on board, ease-of-use ranked highly in their adoption of the platform. “In order to ensure ease of understanding and use of the platform, we act as consultants during this organizational change and guide them through the change process,” informs Bharti.

Given the huge potential of the sector, it wouldn’t be long before more startups join the healthcare tech bandwagon. According to Bharti, “making the most of this brave new world” entails three things:

  1. Keep the end-game in mind at all times. “One criticism that healthcare start-ups receive from healthcare providers is that their technology, while interesting, doesn’t necessarily address the problem these providers are trying to address. With a clear understanding of the vision and problem your start-up is looking to address, ensuring you’re tailoring your offering to those who need it, rather than getting sidetracked by the possibilities of your great idea or technology.”
  2. Understand customers and how they use the product. “Make sure you really understand the different ways your customers use or don’t use your product. Use this information to iterate and innovate. One of the best things about some of the OurHealthMate team using our platform as end-users is that they truly understand both sides of our offering, and are our biggest and best evangelists. Our ability to innovate and come up with new offerings and services has been supported significantly by colleagues who bring their own experiences as users to the table.”
  3. Master the business side of things. “The two things that make or break a company are Sales and Operations. Master these and you will have a viable business. We have worked extremely hard to find a formula that works in each of these departments. For operations, in particular, it was important to ensure data stored on our system was categorized and validated. Data cleaning and organization is the biggest hidden cost of data analytics. In order to reduce this, we built tools and processes to automate this for larger hospitals reducing our cycle time by around 80 percent.”