Insights + interviews

In Conversation with Practo’s Founder & CEO, Shashank ND

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We interview Shashank ND, Founder and CEO of healthcare search platform, Practo, to share about the healthcare and technology landscape in Singapore.

Started in 2008, Practo was developed with the aim of transforming the healthcare industry and having it focused around the patient. The health app allows users to book appointments, order medicines, consult doctors online, manage digital health records and read up on health tips.

Today, Practo is available across multiple cities and countries – creating a patient-friendly healthcare ecosystem where both patients and doctors are seamlessly connected with a flow of health-related information. We speak with Shashank while he was in Singapore, and got him to share about Practo’s presence in Singapore, as well as certain trends observed in healthcare and technology.

AA: Were there any legal hiccups Practo encountered during its launch in Singapore?

SND: Singapore has been a fantastic country for us to operate in, and we have received great support from the government and a lot of love from consumers and doctors as well.

In recent years, there has been an increase in healthcare information made available online, blurring the line between providing health information and marketing. On Practo’s platform, we verify and list every provider for free. We also do not charge consumers when they book appointments via Practo. Our software also helps to push digitisation among clinics further and we hope to accelerate this.

AA: What do you think healthcare will be like five years down the road?

SND: At Practo, we envision a world where technology will bring fundamental changes in healthcare that enable consumers to make better healthcare decisions. [We also want to help] healthcare providers provide better quality and more efficient care to their patients. The healthcare industry is currently not very consumer-centric. To the layperson, access to medical information and treatments that can truly improve their lives is often difficult to find, confusing and even unreliable.

Practo is working towards fostering a future where the consumer is truly at the centre of the picture, with products and solutions designed according to their needs.

For instance, electronic health records will increasingly be stored on cloud and web-based platforms, allowing healthcare providers and patients alike to easily access them through both desktops and mobile devices. This will lay the framework for more comprehensive and integrated health records from different healthcare providers, painting a  holistic picture of the patient, and helping to ensure far more accurate diagnoses.

Telehealth is another exciting tech trend that is getting more sophisticated. [This] enables doctors to check the status and progress of their patients remotely. In many cases, telehealth may even replace physical visits for various health issues. We believe that five years from now, access to great healthcare would be vastly improved. With technology and access to better information, the quality of care will dramatically improve; it will be more affordable as the system becomes more efficient. It would be way more integrated than the silo it operates in today.

AA: Do you think disruptive technology such as Practo will reduce healthcare cost significantly?

SND: Most definitely. Practo advocates for preventive care, encouraging patients to see a doctor early and not postpone their treatment. Sky-high medical costs are largely caused by worsening conditions as a result of delayed treatments. Sometimes, patients don’t see a doctor when they first fall sick as they don’t have a reliable or convenient means to reach one – and this is the exact problem we are trying to address. Our collaborations with other companies such as the Twitter partnership, gives consumers real-time access to consultations with doctors online.

Furthermore, by presenting accurate information, we are able to drive more transparency into the system. This ensures better value for consumers and more opportunities for great providers to serve more patients.

AA: Insurance companies in the US have been forcing clients to own wearables to keep track of their health. What are your thoughts on that?

SND: I think it’s great! Wearables provide consumers with real-time data of their health which enables them to take proactive measures to prevent health issues. The future of health is real-time and not episodic. This disruptive change in technology can save lives, reduce healthcare costs, and enable an ageing population to lead longer, healthier lives.

AA: Singapore is still very reactive in terms of its mindset when it comes to taking care of our health. How does Practo plan to change that?

SND: It is actually true more or less around the world. The problem is not that it is reactive, but that consumers are ignoring their health issues because it is far too complicated to resolve them earlier.

For instance, let’s say you wake up one day with a neck pain, but you lead such a busy life that you ignore it. It goes away in a couple of days, and you forget about it. This continues to happen every few months but you keep ignoring it because it is far more difficult to access the doctor (waiting time, discovering the right one etc.) than to just ignore it for a few days and continue with your life. One year later, it turns into spondylitis (inflammation of the backbone joints), and it now becomes a life-long issue you have to deal with – all because you didn’t see a doctor in time.

This is why we are so focused on making healthcare simpler, easier and much more approachable so that more consumers would engage in it routinely rather than only when the issue becomes serious. This change in approach towards healthcare – from reactive to preventative/proactive, will reduce the number of hospitalisations; become more sustainable and efficient; and benefit not just patients but the entire healthcare system as a whole.

AA: Many Singaporeans tend to rely on Google to read up on their symptoms and self-medicate after. What is your take on the culture/ habit of self-medication and self-diagnosis?

SND: We see this in many other countries as well and I think it is a very bad idea. In fact, very often people don’t even realise they are self-medicating because it has become habitual. Often times self-diagnosis and/or self-medication leads to incorrect diagnosis and inappropriate dosage of medicine – which has far-reaching ramifications for your immune system and drug resistance.

When this happens systemically, it creates serious countrywide issues. For instance, if many people in a country routinely take antibiotics stronger than required (because they self-medicate and don’t know the right dosage), this creates resistance towards that drug on a country level. Virus strains will become increasingly resistant towards that dosage of medicine. Everyone will have to increase the dosage, and the process repeats until the default dosage is significantly higher than what you would take otherwise. This has immense implications on the long-term health of the individual, as well as the overall healthcare system in the country.

At Practo, we are trying to solve this by making it easy to find the right doctor and to book instant appointments. We also have two products – Health Feed and Consult that help to solve the self-diagnosis problem. With Health Feed, we have health articles written by qualified and experienced doctors, ensuring that the articles are not just based on research by a content writer but are actually from practicing doctors with considerable medical experience. With Consult, you can initiate a 24-hour chat with your doctor right from our app or website and ask him any queries you have – whether it is an active health issue or a concern about a potential issue. With this online chat, you can get far more reliable responses about your health concerns than simply searching for them online.

Both these products are currently available only in India but we will be expanding these to international markets soon.

AA: Can you share a bit more about Practo’s products in Singapore?

SND: In Singapore, we have two core products – Practo Search, a search engine for patients to look for a doctor or clinic; and Practo Ray, a clinic management software for doctors to easily store healthcare records, manage appointments, and send personalised messages to their patients.

We are also constantly on the lookout for opportunities to push out more relevant products in the Singapore market.




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