Falling ill, or having a family member diagnosed with a serious health issue is probably at or near the top of everyone's fears. In the digital age, we think we have information and knowledge at our fingertips, on any and every topic. But there is a difference between just learning about a disease or condition and its prognosis and symptoms, and actually having the key facts and figures to make a decision regarding treatment, surgery and costs. Information overload, conflicting opinions and confusion often result from trying to make sense of whatever data the internet offers on healthcare and diseases.
Facing just such a situation, where a close family member was taken seriously ill, is what inspired Amit Bhagat, co-founder of Surgerica, and his co-founder Amar Kumar, to start the online healthcare information portal in early 2013. Without health insurance to fall back on, cost was a concern for their families, along with knowing the various treatment options, and what would be the best hospitals and doctors to go to.
"I prided myself on being tech savvy, but was unable to find credible information online, on doctors, hospitals, the surgery, and pricing," recalls Bhagat. Another major pain point was the time it took to get opinions, travel repeatedly to bigger cities (from Durgapur in West Bengal, where they are based), obtaining appointments with the right physicians, and then making the appropriate decisions - all of which involved huge effort in terms of time, money and emotion. This is not an isolated scenario, indeed it is one faced by much of middle India.In response was begun Surgerica, with the goal of bringing transparency to healthcare in India.
Offering Information, Facilitating Informed Decisions
"We decided to create a platform where we could curate information about hospitals, surgeries, doctors and provide pricing information, so people could take informed decisions," says Bhagat. After reaching out and talking to potential users and hospital administrators, in early 2013 the company launched a concept webpage. That they were on the right track became evident right off the bat, with 1400 responses within a week, "a good response", as Bhagat modestly puts it. But anobstaclesoon came to light-namely,the unwillingness of hospitals to share information on their doctor network and pricing, the latter being a critical pre-requisite for Surgerica to launch its platform.
End 2013, the company found its cash reserves depleted, and the two founders were wondering how to proceed next, when an invite to present their work at Durgapur's inaugural TiE event brought them some much needed attention. "We were unknown, but after we presented at the event, we left with investment, in the form of seed funding to keep Surgerica going," says Bhagat.
Getting Insurance Companies on Board
While keeping up the conversation with hospitals, Surgerica began interacting with healthcare insurance providers. A platform where hospitals can be compared, side by side, on services and pricing, with ratings and reviews available, brings down the insurance claims that insurers need to pay out, points out Bhagat, since otherwise people only know of the premium hospitals that have spent heavily on marketing and smaller, while equally competent places don't get as much traffic.This was an attractive premise for insurers who soon bit the bait. "Today, our customers are insurance companies, with consumers of our platform being the policy holders," says Bhagat. Having brought insurance companies into the fold, Surgerica has been able to acquire pricing information for over 300 companies across India, thereby creating a viable platform and network, killing two birds with one stone.
"There is plenty of unstructured data available, and we found that the insurance companies were excited by the kind of information we had," adds Bhagat, adding that data interpretation was the other big gap. Using algorithms developed in-house, Surgerica is making sense of the data, and the next step is to have a predictive module, which Bhagat hopes will be operational in the next six months. The new module will have the capability to predict illnesses that are likely to affect a person, and that is the most effective way to save money, from the health insurers' perspective, i.e., : keep the insured healthy.
Will hospitals sign on?
Bhagat admits that getting hospitals to share information is still a stumbling block. But the Surgerica team is still at the task, and attempting new strategies to bring hospitals in; Bhagat is hopeful that Surgerica will align with hospitals, and confident of Surgerica's ability to scale up. Using the power of the network and generating large volumes of consumers to increase numbers, he thinks the hospitals will be compelled to join up.
Bhagat believes that Surgerica's positioning is unique - "we are the only company in Asia working to bring transparency to healthcare."With plans to double its team size to forty in the coming year, Surgerica seems all set to keep changing the game when it comes to healthcare and information availability, for the Indian consumer. A toast of health to that!