New Delhi: Armed with technology, young start-up firms offering health services online are challenging taboos associated with many bodily and mental ailments and bridging the digital divide by tele-connecting people in small towns to doctors in big cities.
Delhi-based 'Visit', an on-demand healthcare service online platform, provides to its users a pool of medical specialists and general physicians to choose from for consultation.
Vaibhav Singh, 23, head of business development at the firm, founded nearly a year ago, says, "One of the primary driving forces behind this entrepreneurial venture was to cut through the social taboos and stigma associated with various health disorders."
"Our aim is to help people reach out to specialists from the comfort of their home or any private place in quick time. We realised many people in India don't feel comfortable talking about skin diseases or mental ailments, and so our platform seeks to address that aspect," he said.
Vaibhav, who graduated with a dual degree in BPharma and MSc (Chemistry) from BITS-Pilani, says, the venture was founded with three others students on the campus in the final year of their studies.
'Visit' offers paid online consultation, through video and voice channels, and seven days of free follow-up check-up over text chat. Besides, it maintains a pool of MBBS doctors, who through its 'Q' service, offer free medical consultation by text.
"Currently close to 80-85 users chat on our 'Q' per day. We seek to position ourself as a replacement for online searches and self-medication habits," he says. The online platform, available through web and mobile application, currently has a pool of 500 doctors which include psychologists, dieticians, dermatologists and general physicians.
"We are planning to soon add women health and sexologists to the list. We want people to feel comfortable as we maintain confidentiality and are using technology to help them tide over their hesitation as well as break social stigma," Vaibhav said.
But this start-up is not content with urban areas only and has now entered into a partnership with telecom firms to offer telemedicine services to people in tier 2 and tier 3 cities.
"The service, available over telephone for Rs 7 per minute, has been already launched in the north zone, which would cover Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. We are getting 500 requests on a daily basis. The service will now be made available in the south zone followed by east and west zones," he said.
"The doctors signed up for the service primarily belong to the same zone as the caller and have regional language proficiency too," he added.
Vaibhav, who is from Patna, says, "As entrepreneurs, we are not satisfied with urban target audience and want to reach out to semi-urban and eventually rural audience."
"Patients across the country find booking an appointment a difficult and tedious process. Also, long waiting hours and distance of hospital or clinic from home can take a toll on patients' health. This service will help patients, especially those living in rural areas where the nearest doctor could be 200 km away," he said.
South India-based 'iCliniq', another online healthcare platform, is also attempting to bridge the digital divide by taking telemedicine services to rural areas.
Founded by Dhruv Suyamprakasam, a young engineering graduate, a few years ago, the consultation platform has a pool of nearly 1,500 doctors.
"Our platform is also helping mothers in areas such as child health, pediatric dentistry, pediatric surgery, pediatric allergy and pediatric asthma. Nearly 2,238 queries every month are posted and around 2,000 queries have been posted by mothers for their children," an official of the company said.
"We have also set up an information kiosk at a village in West Bengal, where people can go and use the facility to talk to doctors. Since internet facility is yet to really penetrate rural areas, our services would have to be routed through telecom networks," the official said.
'Modasta', an online multi-lingual health information platform, is also helping mothers to query about their children's health online.
Another online platform 'Lybrate' launched in May, 2014, is offering services through its doctors from varied branches of medicine like urology, gynaecology, psychiatry, sexology, neurology, cardiology, dermatology, dentistry and ophthalmology from over 80 cities.
"Today, the range is between Rs 50 and Rs 5,000. Usually, the charges for text consultation is lower than video or voice consultation," a spokesperson for the company said.
On consultation charges for its online services, Vaibhav says, "For psychologists, it is Rs 800 for 45 minutes of video or voice consultation, Rs 600 for dieticians for 30 minutes, Rs 500 for dermatologists for 30 minutes and for general physicians Rs 400 for 20 minutes. In all categories of service, seven days of free follow-up over chat is offered too."
"On 'Visit' we are getting 7-8 users who are consulting specialists over video or voice per day and we eventually wish to make it an end-to-end medical online service including being a medical concierge, which our 'Q' service is," he said.