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The responses have been given by Vaibhav Tewari, COO, Portea Medical

All around the world, people are facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As InnovatioCuris (IC), we are always on a lookout for healthcare innovations that are affordable and provide quality care. Most governments across the world have lifted restrictions or limitations imposed on telemedicine to provide home-staying patients with remote access to healthcare. The US, for example, allowed Medicare payments for virtual visits, while India’s Ministry of Health issued new guidelines permitting registered medical practitioners to use telemedicine services. In the wake of this, InnoHEALTH magazine scouted and interviewed some innovative telemedicine providers/startups to build an army of health transformers to mobilize and address this global health crisis.

Disha Soni and Prateek Malhotra interviewed Vaibhav Tewari, COO, Portea Medical, on behalf of InnoHEALTH magazine to bring out some virtually perfect telemedicine solutions available during the Covid-19 crisis, also to understand challenges and opportunities posed by such a situation and how our startup ecosystem is tackling it.

What are the objectives and your vision to start this organization?

Portea Medical has been delivering consistent and quality medical care to its customer’s doorstep in various parts of the country for the last seven years. The healthcare sector in India has a chronic shortage of doctors and qualified medical staff. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), India has just 0.9 beds per 1,000 population, a number far below the WHO’s recommendation of 1.9 beds per 1,000population. The situation becomes more challenging due to the massive disease burden and the increased risk of hospital-acquired infections. This is what the organisation set out to address.

What do you think needs to change in the health sector?

The healthcare sector in India has been witnessing a major transformation and the need of the hour is more public-private partnerships. The current pandemic has only accelerated this need and it is imperative to integrate home healthcare and telemedicine as core elements of the overall healthcare ecosystem. The country has a severe shortage of doctors, trained medical staff as well as hospital beds even under normal circumstances. The gaps have been severely exposed by the spread of Covid-19. From a primarily institutional healthcare strategy, we need to move ahead towards a composite structure where hospitals take care of patients requiring intensive care, surgeries, and other such specialized services.

The private clinics, tech-based health start-ups and home healthcare/telemedicine companies should be entrusted with regular day-to-day care of minor ailments, non-surgical procedures, chronic disease management and other aspects such as mental health and physiotherapy etc. The great reach and efficiency displayed by the private players during the pandemic has received favourable response from the authorities as well. In the post Covid-19 world, we are confident of a greater role being played by home healthcare and telemedicine as well as other allied technology driven services.

What tools and resources do you propose to bring these shifts in healthcare delivery?

At the outset, technology must be integrated into every aspect of healthcare delivery. For instance, the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored how telemedicine can become a game changer in ensuring everybody has access to timely healthcare. Technology such as predictive analytics and AI will help strengthen services in terms of personalization, accuracy, seamlessness, and cost-effectiveness. Technology will also help hospitals offload their burden of occupancy and bring down the cost of medical care depending on the facilities and services availed. Another major step would be to provide impetus to home healthcare which is an extremely cost-effective option compared to regular hospital treatment and the focused care can help in quicker recovery. Currently, most insurance policies only cover tertiary care which requires a 24-hour hospital admission.The government could look at providing better support infrastructure for home healthcare such as insurance coverage.

Can you share about your business model? What is the key strategy you adopted for acquisition?

Mr Vaibhav shared with us that they have their own team of doctors, caregivers, and nurses – both short and long term. Through them, they provide at-home care to the different target groups such as post hospitalization discharged patients, critically ill patients requiring assistance, the elderly, among others.  They also have various packages such as PorteaInControl (for diabetes management) and Portea Health Prime (an exclusive service for people over 65 years of age). Apart from this, they have partnerships with over 50 leading hospitals in the country, which refer patients to us. This forms 50% of the users while the other half come organically to the platform since we have been in the business for about 7 years now.

Share with us about your technology that powers this company?

Cutting edge technology, custom-built ERP systems to run our operations, advanced patient treatment management platform( used to manage the patient journey, basis a treatment plan created for him), extensive focus on patient engagement are the core powers of the organisation. 

What are the factors that influence market innovation and its impact on your organization?

Patient centricity and their needs influence the innovation the most for us. Most of our new product launches, solutions, service extensions have all been driven by our focus on our patients. We marry the latest technology and process innovations with patient needs to create the most useful solutions and processes for them.

What are your strategies to deal with your competitor and what makes you different from others?

Quality forms the bedrock of all the initiatives. Having been in the business for over 7 years, we understand the market well and have provided home healthcare to about 3.5 million patients pan India so far, having said this, Mr Vaibhav also said 

“Home healthcare industry in India is still in its early stage but we have seen an increased pace of growth in the recent years. We grown to a leading position in the market by virtue of its service diversity and excellence. We have transformed the way home delivery of healthcare has been functioning so far. Critical services such as home dialysis and home chemotherapy have been introduced into the market by us. We rely on our expertise and deeper understanding of Indian healthcare sector to stand out among the crowd. Further, we are aiming to diversify into various much needed verticals including training of medical workers and innovation.”

Do you consider bringing telemedicine in rural areas and what are your initiatives towards that?

Teleconsulting is becoming reality today, more so in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier in March, the health ministry and NITIAayog, jointly announced guidelines for medical practitioners to ramp up telemedicine services in the fight against COVID-19. Under the new norms, registered medical practitioners can use all channels of communication, including voice, video, and text, for diagnosis. That means even WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or mobile health apps can facilitate consultation. “Portea Medical saw a 60% spike in teleconsultation since the pandemic broke out and we plan to integrate telemedicine as an integral aspect of our future initiatives”, says Mr Vaibhav.

What are the cyber security issues an organisation like you faces and how do you deal with them?

The organisation has an extensive security policy and its followed in letter and spirit across the organization. Given the dealing with patient data, it is extremely critical.  The organisation also has external certifications and regular audits.  

What were the challenges you faced in initial days and how are they different today’s scenario, especially during this pandemic and what is your role in that?

Pioneering the home healthcare Industry and continuous work to serve patients with the best outside the hospital care, the organisation has been building scalable processes, and technology. Hiring and training a high quality workforce, strong focus on medical SOPs and quality checks in the distributed service delivery environment are some of the focus areas. 

Mr Vaibhav also added that “In the pandemic scenario, supporting patients in the comforts of their home with a combination of technology, our medical expertise and on the ground clinical staff is the big focus. We see increased demand for technology driven healthcare for patients at home going forward.”

Do you see any major growth opportunity in the post COVID-19 world? What are your views about reimbursement to enhance healthcare delivery models?

The healthcare services in the post Covid-19 world are going to be very different from what we all are used to. There is definitely a lot of opportunity for the private sector in terms of using their technological capabilities to come up with scalable solutions. The lack of institutional healthcare resources and coverage have been a major challenge in dealing with the pandemic. The government has introduced several contingency measures to build capacity and the private sector has also played an important role in spreading awareness of the disease. 

There will be a greater emphasis on contactless healthcare for non-critical services such as minor ailments, fever, and health-related queries etc. Technology evolution has also enabled home healthcare providers to provide specialized services. Combined with telemedicine and doorstep delivery of medicines as well as diagnostic services, the home-based healthcare services are expected to form the bulk of the healthcare ecosystem in India. This will not only give a wider reach to the providers but also enable the patients to receive better and more affordable care across the country.

So far, services such as telemedicine and home care have also not been widely adopted due to lack of coverage. The time has come to mainstream such services and bring them under the ambit of insurance coverage at par with the other conventional treatments. This will help in popularizing technology driven care services and bring down their costs. We hope to see this happen in near future and it is important for the growth of Indian healthcare industry.

What are your future plans and any message for our readers?

Portea Medical plans to support its patients with all their medical needs at home as much as possible. Continue to build more solutions to support patients like chemotherapy at home, critical care at home etc. Future plans would involve:

  • Reaching to Tier II cities as well. 
  • More emphasis on technology and telemedicine and creating training infrastructure for skilled medical workers in the country. 

To our readers, I would request them to stay at home as far as possible. Non-essential travel, visiting crowded places or using public transport must be avoided and social distancing measures should be paid attention to. Ensure that the elderly and children at home are well taken care of. Prevention is the best cure for the pandemic.  

Interviewed by Disha Soni & Dr Prateek Malhotra

InnoHEALTH Magazine

Author InnoHEALTH Magazine

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