With the introduction of the term ‘Health 2.0’ in the early 2000s, India waded into the digital healthcare space. World Wide Web had taken the world by storm and India was no different. Health 2.0 was evidence enough that healthcare would be joining forces with the World Wide Web. But digital health was yet to reach India in all its glory. For most Indians, Google was synonymous with digital health.
Indian healthcare desperately needed an overhaul. In a country with a billion people and a serious dearth in infrastructure and skilled manpower, technology needed to play the role of an enabler.
As 2008 set in, things started looking a lot brighter. The economy was growing at well above 8%. Per capita spending power was also increasing steadily. The year also witnessed rapid changes in the Indian telecom industry that not only impacted the telecom business but also other industries which viewed it as a stepping stone. The biggest enabler was the rising penetration of mobile phones and then, smartphones. Slum-dwellers, who lacked access to clean water, were spotted with mobile phones in their hands. Everybody was ready for a new tomorrow.
The changing landscape
During the globalisation wave, many top VCs had entered India. By backing companies such as Flipkart, JustDial, Zomato, MakeMyTrip and many others, they took technology adoption in India to the next level. However, apart from a few small investments, the digital healthcare space in India didn’t see much activity from VCs during all this time.
It took a while, but with rising adoption of technology for discovery and bookings in India, Sequoia Capital took its bet in the space. Two graduates from the National Institute of Technology, Surathkal, who had persevered in this space during tough times, had received $4.5 million for their online doctor appointment and hospital ERP startup from the VC firm that had missed the e-commerce bus. Sequoia had funded Practo. And, as we all know, the rest is history. This investment was the turning point for the digital healthcare space in India.
The present scenario
In the present scheme of things, digital health is one of the most exciting spaces in India. Practo has come a long way from where it started and has opened the gates for other startups as well. It has not just raised $125 million from marquee investors such as Tencent, Sofina, Altimeter Capital, Sequoia, Matrix, Google Capital and Yuri Milner, but has also become the global leader in the space.
In 2015, digital health companies received over $4.6 billion of VC funding in 574 deals globally. Out of which, Indian companies contributed 6% by value and 10% by number of deals. Led by Practo, today quite a few Indian companies such as Portea, 1mg, MedGenome, La Renon, GoQii, Lybrate, Attune and Medwell have raised funds in double-digit million dollars and are solving different puzzles of consumer health through technology.
In India, doctors cite lack of interest by key users, work culture of medical professionals and lack of information on mobile-based health as the biggest barriers to adoption of mobile health
According to PwC, India is now second among developing countries on the maturity scale for mobile-health adoption. India’s internet penetration is rising at a very high pace and India has already surpassed the US to become the second biggest market for smartphones in the world. At 43% year-over-year growth, India is the only exception to the flat growth that the internet has witnessed across the world as per Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report. The Indian health market is projected to touch $280 billion by 2020. That’s a CAGR of 16.6%. The speed at which our country is moving is staggering and clearly portrays a beautiful image for the future, but the path towards it is covered with its own set of thorns.
The missing piece in the digital health puzzle
Any industry is a reflection of its vanguard, its focal point, its most important stakeholder. In the healthcare industry, it is the doctors who occupy this throne, at least till the time technology finds a way to provide care without requiring doctors. Though one of the most affluent professionals in the industry, doctors have largely shied away from technological advances, especially in India, where they hardly get time to catch their breath. Technology, till now, has been a deterrent and not an enabler for them and most of them find their time better spent offline in treating patients.
According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, only 27% of doctors encourage patients to use m-health applications and 13% of physicians actually discourage it. In India, doctors cite lack of interest by key users, work culture of medical professionals and lack of information on mobile-based health as the biggest barriers to adoption of mobile health. It is very clear that the problem is a lot more of supply than demand. And the ultimate care providers want access to other medical professionals and industry to provide them with unbiased information. Due to offline being the existing channel, doctors only receive the limited information provided by a few pharmaceutical and devices companies, which tend to be a little biased to serve their own interests.
A new era – healthcare marketing
In India, the revolution to improve the supply of digital healthcare is still in its nascent stage. There are doctor-only platforms coming up to help the doctors effectively communicate amongst themselves and discover relevant medical information from the industry. High engagement of doctors on these platforms is in turn enabling the supply for the digital healthcare space.
With the number of doctors adopting online media increasing, this is an amazing opportunity for healthcare marketers to jump onto the online healthcare bandwagon. E-detailing, m-sampling, webinars, online continuing medical education (CME) and market research are some of the digital initiatives that the industry has already initiated. If this trend accelerates, healthcare marketing will go digital at every stage of the product lifecycle.
The author is co-founder of Curofy, a networking app for doctors.
This is the second part of a three-part series on the evolution of the digital healthcare space. Read the first part here: How PubMed and WebMD showed the way in digital healthcare
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