A boon for patients in the countryside
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It was 2009. A retired father from Kharagpur, West Bengal, visited his son in Bengaluru, where he developed a heart problem and was taken to a cardiology clinic. When he returned to the same doctor six months later for a check-up, he was told a sleep disorder medicine prescribed by a doctor in Kharagpur should have been avoided.
The incident with his father made entrepreneur Sujay Santra realize that there was something wrong with the rural healthcare system. “If being a technocrat, this could happen to my family, I realized the problem is far bigger for other people residing in rural and remote areas,” Santra said.
The realization led to the birth of iKure Techsoft Pvt. Ltd in 2010, with Santra working to identify ways of connecting patients with doctors through technology.
iKure Techsoft is a winner in the Health & Well-being category at the mBillionth Awards 2016, organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation.
Santra, who was a solutions architect with Oracle in 2010, knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. Even though his first e-commerce business, Denicasoft Consulting, shut down in 2003, after only a year-and-a-half of operations, he did not lose his desire to try something new. Two colleagues from Oracle initially supported Santra on the technology front in the healthcare initiative, but they left after a little over a year.
Last year, Santra was given the Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship, which introduced him to a global platform and opportunities for collaborations.
iKure largely works in the area of affordable and preventive healthcare and has set up rural healthcare centres with qualified doctors, pharmacists and health workers.
The start-up organizes healthcare camps and offers training to health workers, providing them with a livelihood.
Most of its health workers are women in the age group of 22-45 years.
The start-up also provides family health cards where a family of five people can get services by paying only Rs50 per month. It offers free consultation with medicines, special packages for seasonal diseases such as malaria and typhoid and discounted diagnostic and ambulance services among others.
iKure’s current team strength is 50, including 10 doctors, 25 health workers and technical and corporate support. However, it has trained 140 health workers who now work as volunteers. It operates a total of 40 rural healthcare centres currently.
iKure has tied up with global universities such as McGill University of Canada, University of Michigan, Santa Clara University of California in the US and Aalborg University of Denmark for academic and research-related work. It also partners with a number of hospital chains, non-governmental organizations and private companies for corporate social responsibility initiatives.
iKure, which currently operates in six states—West Bengal, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Karnataka—plans to extend its presence to 30 blocks from 12 now over the next two years and is currently readying itself to enter Chhattisgarh, Sikkim, Telangana, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya.
Started in 2010, the journey has not been an easy one for Santra. It took almost two years to evolve on the technology front. Internet connectivity was a major challenge, resulting in modifications in technology and finally a cloud-hosted web application was made that would work on low bandwidth, therefore acting as an interface between rural and urban healthcare.
The challenge was to bring in doctors willing to serve in rural areas. Santra realized that there would never be enough doctors to treat patients individually in India. At the core of healthcare is the patient, and the patient was being neglected, he said.
iKure’s core healthcare model—cloud-based healthcare delivery platform WHIMS (Wireless Health Incident Monitoring System) was developed to address the gap in rural areas.
Developed in-house by the organization, WHIMS allows patients to be treated in remote settings where access to hospitals and clinics is limited.
The system comes with an intuitive graphics user interface that rural health workers, even with a high school education, could use. Santra then realized that this system should be accompanied by instruments to measure the vital statistics of patients and created medic bags stuffed with low-cost portable healthcare instruments for health workers. These workers are given smartphones or tablets loaded with the WHIMS technology that enables them to diagnose patients even in the remotest areas.
iKure operates through its hub-and-spoke clinics connected by WHIMS technology that helps to track the location of its trained health workers through the smartphones they use. The start-up has also introduced a telemedicine facility through which specialized clinical consultations at an affordable price are provided remotely using telecom technology.
iKure has raised around Rs2-2.5 crore between 2010 and 2015. While the seed fund support came from West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation (Webel) venture funds, the company has raised another round from Intellecap Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd, Japanese fund ARUN LLC, Mumbai Angels Network, Calcutta Angels Network, VilCap Investments, LLC, Government of India’s MSME scheme, Indus Venture Inc. and IIM Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE). It is planning to go for another round of fund-raising to the tune of Rs25-30 crore either through angel funds or by bringing in a strategic investor.
For iKure, the road ahead is a sustainable healthcare model. It wants to provide affordable healthcare to the maximum rural population by bringing in the right partners.
The company is also trying to make its operations completely paperless, from identifying patients to capturing data. It has a digital system in place to track its inventory, operations, expenses and human resource management, etc and is now introducing a fingerprint ID for patients in order to keep records of their data.
The company is a part of the Ashoka Globaliser initiative which is a platform that identifies high-potential social enterprises.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.