Can Health Startups Make India Pandemic-Ready? While the lockdown seems to have bought time to do a quick-fix, a systemic solution is the only way forward

By Pranjal Kumar

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COVID-19 has brought the whole world to a standstill. Not only has it exposed the huge gaps in our healthcare systems, but also highlighted the necessity of having a pandemic handbook.

Countries such as the US and Italy, which spend a total of about 15 per cent of the GDP on healthcare and feature among the top infrastructures globally, have reported alarming number of COVID casualties. While India, that accounts for 20 per cent of the global disease burden, has yawning gaps in healthcare infrastructure. India has 0.7 beds per 1,000 people nationwide

(86 per cent less than WHO norms), less than 1 doctor per 1,000 (almost half of China and 1/3rd of that in the US), 5million-plus medical errors reported annually and 1/3rd patients catching infection in the hospital.

With all these challenges under normal circumstances, one can only imagine the stress during a pandemic. So Yes, the concern is real.

While the lockdown seems to have bought time to do a quick-fix, a systemic solution is the only way forward. This is where India's vibrant startup ecosystem can step in and play a huge role. Our startups have demonstrated scalable business models that have the potential to redefine healthcare in post-COVID times.


Social distancing is increasingly becoming part of life, and tele-consultation platforms provide an apt solution for the new world.These platforms are also helping doctors become more productive by applying artificial intelligence on underlying patient data, thus scaling access and improving quality of diagnosis. Integrations with pharmacies and diagnostics is helping these platforms close-loop the entire cure process. However, earning patient trust has not been easy for these platforms.

The current pandemic is an inflexion point in patient adoption as people are avoiding hospital visits. A few players are reporting three times growth in daily tele-consultations per doctor, and one can hope that this drives significant behavourial shift towards tele-consultation.

Home Healthcare

Today, while world leaders are urging people to stay home,a significant section of the population continues to need regular medical support, including access to life-saving treatment, such as dialysis, chemotherapy, etc. Home healthcare is a perfect solution for such times.

So far, the sector has been plagued with the limited availability of skilled workforce and inconsistent service delivery. For example, India has only 1.7 nurses per 1,000 population, which is less than half of the WHO norms. This pandemic has presented the opportunity for service providers and the government to collaborate in scaling-up the medical (para and allied) workforce.


As people get more habituated to consuming products and services at home, e-pharmacies' sales should accelerate beyond their historical 60per cent- growth, and capture a more meaningful market sharein pharmacy retail (vs.current share of less than 1 per cent).

Until now, e-pharmacies have faced many challenges including unclear regulations, value proposition hinged on heavy discounting, etc. However, e-pharma companies have recently launched multiple innovations such as subscription model with auto-refill for chronic patients (2/3rd of pharma consumption), same day delivery, certified substitutes, etc. In addition, players have started integrating other healthcare services such as diagnostics, wellness etc., and launched private labels to induce frequent consumption and provide more comprehensive care. These efforts coupled with consumers being 'forced' to try online purchase, should make e-pharmacies more mainstream.

Hi-tech OPDs

Going to the doctor with your last check-up slip, and waiting at the OPD station, has become too risky during the pandemic. This is where technology can play a pivotal role. From booking appointments to maintaining electronic health records and launching clinical decision support, startups are enabling doctor and clinics to run their practice digitally. So far, top tier hospitals and clinic chains have been the early adopters of these tech solutions. However, pandemic is now breaking the barrier and forcing the long tail of healthcare providers to work with these startups.

Finding the silver lining

The need for good healthcare unites the world in isolation today and startups are playing the firefighters' role. It is this flywheel of innovation that will not onlysave more lives but also help us come out as winnersin this pandemic battle. Not just silver!

Pranjal Kumar

Principal & CFO, Bertelsmann India Investments

Pranjal Kumar is the Principal & CFO of Bertelsmann Group companies in India. In his current role, Pranjal drives investments in education, gaming, agriculture & other services sector for Bertelsmann Group of companies in India, as well as steers portfolio management for Bertelsmann India Investments' investee companies. Pranjal has mastered portfolio management in investe companies like - Eruditus, WizIQ AND iNurture.

Prior to Bertelsmann, Pranjal was a part of A.T. Kearney India unit where he was accountable for business development & project delivery in Communication, Media & Technology practice. Before joining Kearney, Pranjal was associated with KPMG Advisory as a manager for almost 2 years where his projects included providing transaction related advisory on market assessment, target assessment, commercial due diligence, synergy estimation, post deal integration. Besides this, Pranjal gave initial four years of his career to Accenture where he was a consultant to his on shareholder value diagnostics, M&A valuation, market entry and profit enhancement.

Pranjal's academic background includes an MBA from Indian Institute of Management and a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology.

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