Practo plans to take digital healthcare success abroad


Bangalore: Practo Technologies Private Ltd’s audacious goal of bringing order to India’s chaotic health-care system is starting to bear fruit, helping to transform it into the country’s biggest online medical network. Now the startup is planning to go global.

Since debuting in 2008, the Bangalore-based company connects 60 million users, 200,000 doctors and 10,000 hospitals. More than 40 million appointments are booked each year via Practo, which also offers online consultations and home deliveries of medicine. Its software and mobile applications link people and doctors, as well as hospital systems, so that they can manage their visits, billing and inventory, while helping patients find physicians and access their digital medical records.

Much of that was unthinkable a few years ago, given India’s patchy, inefficient and sometimes corrupt health-care systems. As a result, the Bangalore-based company has attracted prominent investors such as Sequoia Capital, Google Capital, Tencent Holdings Ltd and billionaire Yuri Milner of DST Global, and more than $124 million in funds to date. Practo was valued at $500 million in its latest financing round, and is getting ready to raise more funds.

The company is expanding in Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, and eyeing expansion in Latin America with an initial foray into Brazil in March. Like India, those countries have a multitude of health providers and low penetration of technology, along with an emerging tech-savvy middle class and soaring mobile Internet usage, according to Shashank N.D., Practo’s founder and chief executive officer.

“We want our technology platform to become a gateway to all health-care needs in fragmented markets around the world,” said the 28-year-old Shashank. “There is no Amazon or Uber yet in global health care, we want to be the Indian startup solving the idiosyncrasies in all health-care systems across the planet.”

Practo makes money by charging doctors and hospitals for its software services on a per-user or per-institution basis, and also sells advertising on its portal where people search for doctors, clinics, diagnostics centers and fitness clubs. Revenue is growing four to five times annually, Shashank said.

“Our burn rate is low, we have a ton of money in the bank and we will turn profitable next year,” Shashank said.

Health care remains a challenge in India, where people still rely on word-of-mouth medical recommendations, show up at the doctor’s door without appointments and are often unable to get copies of their records from hospitals. To combat excessive lab testing, over-prescription of medicines, or long hospital stays, Practo offers information on pricing and patient reviews.

“Startups that place power in the hands of consumers are exactly what emerging markets need,” said Vishal Bali, who heads up Asia health for a TPG investment fund, which isn’t an investor in Practo.

At stake is a piece of the global health-care information technology market, which is on track to reach $104.5 billion by 2020, according to San Francisco-based Grand View Research Inc. While Practo doesn’t have a close competitor in India, it offers services in just 35 cities, with plans to extend that to 100 by year end. And it may soon face a new rival: Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, two former top executives from Flipkart Ltd, India’s e-commerce leader, are launching their own health-tech start-up.

“Practo brings a rare transparency to health care while lowering costs through aggregation,” said Nitin Soni, a Singapore-based director at Fitch Ratings