It’s 8:30 PM. The orthopaedic clinic in north Bengaluru is teeming with patients on Thursday night. Most of them are glued to their phones, the screen glow drowning the dismay of the often hour-long wait-in. The receptionist, meanwhile, manages with a fat diary, appointments neatly listed and ticked off as the clock noiselessly ticks. There’s no computer. Dr Gaurav Sharma, until recently a senior consultant and professor at St Johns Hospital in south Bengaluru, ranks the second highest on Google when searched by specialty and location, doesn’t use any software for managing his clinic. Or even pulling in patients. Exactly the kind of doctor Practo wanted to sell its first product, Practo Ray, back in 2008. Help single-doctor clinics manage their calendar, billing, invoicing and inventory.

In the 10 years since, Practo has added a roster to its software-as-a-service offerings, which cater to single clinics and mid-size hospitals. Its website, which started with doctor search, now allows patients to book appointments, order drugs, diagnostics, even consult with doctors. Now, Practo claims, it manages people’s health records digitally. That being said, digital health records are still on everyone’s wish list.

Practo number-speak


130,000 doctors
80,000 clinics
6000 hospitals
1000 diagnostic labs

Not only for the likes of Dr Sharma who don’t use technology. To be fair, he did give the search services company, JustDial, a chance when it listed him, but gradually shut off such services when the marketing got excessive. “I don’t believe in lead generation for doctors. Like others, Practo came to me. Look, if they promise to send patients to 10 doctors in an area, where will they bring patients from? Shuffle them between doctors. And how is that determined? By the commission they make.”

That’s what Practo and its ilk are up against: To bring behavioural change in doctors and patients, with clear value propositions. After 10 years, $234 million in venture funding, five frenetic acquisitions—should have been ‘double-digit acquisitions in 12 months’ going by its own statements—it doesn’t seem Practo has figured that value proposition.

The moment a business puts its revenue model ahead of the customer, it’s headed for trouble. It’s true of the startup world; it’s truer of healthcare.

Between 2014-16, Practo raised a lot of money on the back of a narrative—the largest health-tech platform in India, with the largest congregation of doctors. It valourised itself as the vanguard of digital health. But the business fundamentals are nowhere close to justifying that size of funding, nor are they close to justifying that valuation, $650 million in January 2017.

The company is once again in the market to raise capital even though officially it says, it is “well capitalised for the next few years”.

AUTHOR

Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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