There are an estimated seven physicians per 10,000 people in India, a quarter of the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended number for the population density. This number signifies a need for medical attention, and this is where startups like Practo have entered.
Practo, a healthcare startup that provides its customers with a search tool to find healthcare professionals among other services, received in total US$124 million in funding, the latest round led by Tencent in August.
Another player hoping to tap into India’s market is Hong Kong-based healthcare startup Gather Health (Gather), which provides continuous care to patients with chronic diseases by connecting them with doctors through mobile and cloud-based healthcare apps.
Gather’s diabetes tracking platform has been adopted by partner physicians and patients in Indian cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, changing the way patients receive routine healthcare.
Managing chronic diseases with healthcare tech
“What we do is create a long-term personal interaction with your doctor. Things like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases — these need to be managed long-term. You need to ask questions and get ahead of issues, before they arise,” says Burke Wise, CEO of Gather.
India has an estimated 65.1 million people living with diabetes and a rapidly growing national prevalence, putting increasing strain on the country’s already burdened healthcare system, according to Gather’s data.
“Our challenge is to change the way that chronic diseases are treated. It’s very different then urgent care. It’s continuous care. We document everything in our system. It’s data driven, as we are constantly monitoring our patients and their outcomes,” says Wise.
Gather is targetting India and Hong Kong as its main markets, and the app is available in Mandarin, English and Hindi.
The need for these services stem from a country like India’s rapid urban development, with a trailing health system.
“What happens from a healthcare point of view when countries and cities develop? You listen to what the WHO is telling you to do. You do basic things. You vaccinate. You clear drinking water. Then people start moving to the city and exercising less. Society gets older, there’s a less active lifestyle. There’s the inevitability of increasing rates of chronic diseases,” says Wise.
Opportunities and challenges within Hong Kong
The market for healthcare tech startups isn’t centered in less developed areas. Hong Kong-based TopDoc, which calls itself an e-health tech startup is similar to Practo. TopDoc connects patients to healthcare professionals 24/7, and users can see which doctors come highly recommended by those in their circle.
“Healthcare is a tech-resistant industry, because the mentality of professionals is very risk adverse. In general, doctors are advised not to take risks. Our biggest challenge is user adoption, which is slow in Hong Kong.” says Christelle Ho Hio-hen, Founder of TopDoc.
“Even in mainland China, people are more quick to use online services. Hong Kong doesn’t have a culture of adopting new habits.”
Other hurdles that Hong Kong faces includes grey zones surrounding the use of apps and tech by doctors and practitioners in the industry.
TopDoc was one of the startups chosen for the first batch in the AIA Accelerator programme, powered by Nest, one of the first accelerators in Hong Kong that focusses on health tech and wearables.
Despite the challenges, Ho still sees opportunity in Hong Kong.
“The market is not just limited to people living in Hong Kong. There are 16 million tourists coming to Hong Kong every year. There are 52 million appointments made yearly in the private sector,” Ho says.
She adds, in addition to startups like TopDoc and Gather, Hong Kong is seeing a rise in lab-oriented biotech like wearables, such as Hong Kong-based DNA biotech startup Prenetics.
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