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At the beginning of this year, Gurdeep, a 25-year-old Aligarh lawyer, weighed 104 kg. He may have carried on with the excess weight because there is no weight-loss counselling centre in his town but for a chance online encounter. He registered himself for a weight-loss programme at healthkart. com, an online provider of health products and services.
"The next day a counsellor called and spoke to me at length about how I could lose weight given my body-type and eating habits. I told her I wanted to build muscle like others my age. She gave me a diet chart and recommended protein drinks, " says Gurpreet who says he has lost 14 kg over a period of five months. The counselling was free of cost;he only had to pay for the protein supplements that he bought online from the e-store.
When it comes to preventive healthcare people always stumble on two fronts - cost and access. Unless you are really ill, people don't want to go to a doctor and wait endlessly outside a clinic? Online health stores which have been mushrooming over the past couple of years are cashing in on these two factors.
Their USP is quick, hassle-free access to doctors, diagnostics and health merchandise at attractive prices. It helps that Indians rely heavily on the internet to get information about health. According to a survey conducted last year by Max Bupa, a health insurance firm, 40 per cent Indians conduct frequent online searches for health. Indians are second only to Americans in the use of healthcare websites and portals in the world.
Anurag Singh, a 36-year-old sales executive living and working Delhi, is a recent recruit to the growing army of online health hunters. When his uncle was asked to get a knee replacement, he logged on to Alacurity, an online health counselling and services provider, for help. "They advised me on the choice of hospitals and doctors, and also gave me a cost comparison. After the surgery they helped me source a special orthopaedic bed for my uncle and a medical attendant. " Shyam Zanwar, founder and CEO of Alacurity, claims that they provide these services at prices which are 30 per cent to 50 per cent lower than the market price. ".
The e-commerce market in India is currently pegged at Rs 50, 000 crore and in this, health occupies roughly 20 per cent of the space, says Sameer Maheshwari CEO and co-founder of healthkart. com. Offline market for health products and services in India adds up to $15- $20 billion, and of this only two to three per cent is organised. Players like Maheshwari are hoping to fill in the gap by providing online options in organised health retail.
A large chunk of customers/patients who log on to these sites come from smaller towns and cities where access to quality healthcare services and diagnostic tests is limited. Healthkart. com for instance gets 30 per cent of its orders from Tier-4 towns. Every day, around 200 people call in or chat with Healthkart counsellors for nutrition advice. Fitness supplements and weightloss programmes/diets attract the maximum traffic to e-health stores followed by online diagnostic tests.
Early this year, Aneesh Khanna launched mylabyogi. com that "brings diagnostic tests to your doorstep". The portal has tie-ups with 10 labs in Mumbai and charges a flat rate of Rs 75 per patient. The user first books a test on the portal. A qualified lab technician is then sent to the user's home/office to collect the necessary samples. A softcopy of the results is then communicated to the user later in the day. The portal also offers personalised health record services. People can upload their lab reports and prescriptions and update the records every time a new test is conducted. This helps create a onepoint online source of health records, which otherwise take up a lot of storage space in homes and also get lost.
In its eight-month existence mylabyogi. com has conducted 1200 transactions. But Khanna admits that currently they are bootstrapped. While the stickiness level of this business is high (people who have a good experience stick on) getting traffic to the website is a big challenge. Khanna's concern, in fact, is a reflection of current state of India's e-commerce industry. Valuations of Indian e-commerce startups have dived by more than half in 2012 compared to the dizzying heights scaled the previous year.
To tide over the uncertain economic climate, Vijaya Varma, CEO and founder of yoscare. in, decided to tweak her revenue model. Launched in 2007 in Bangalore as an online source to manage patients' health records and provide SMS reminders for medication, lab tests and doctor's appointments, the portal has shifted its focus from patients to doctors. It started off by giving users smart cards with their entire health records encoded on them. Every time a patient gets a new lab report or a new prescription he/she sends the information via SMS to yoscare. in which loads it on to a smart card. The portal also put up smart card readers in various hospitals in Bangalore and other cities so that the doctors could easily access the patient's past records.
"Now, we are digitising in-patient and out-patient records for various hospitals and then generating analytical data, " says Varma. The website charges the patient only for the smart card. But they charge hospitals Rs 100-Rs 150 per record, per patient. "This way we get monthly revenue from hospitals, " says Varma who has issued lakhs of smart cards till now. Their services can be accessed in 60-65 hospitals spread across cities in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
The portal also has an online IVF application that gives the users a fertility chart which is very critical for couples undergoing IVF treatment.
In the five years that Varma has been running yoscare. in she has realised that when it comes to health people listen only to doctors. To run a successful online healthcare service, the focus should be on doctors. "It's very important to win the trust of the patients, " she says.
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