Interviews

‘We are going to witness a historical unprecedented digital revolution’

VARUN

 

Varun-Arora

Varun Arora, President, “DOCTORS BEYOND BORDERS” and Country Head of India at “RingMD”

Says Varun Arora, President, “DOCTORS BEYOND BORDERS” and Country Head of India at “RingMD”.  DBB encompasses multiple digital patient platforms that have been operational for approximately 2 years in India, during that time they have provided guidance to patients from over 160 countries. RingMD is global Telemedicine platform operating in 16 countries, supported by 22 languages and has over 2.5 million unique page views per month and growing rapidly.  Varun Arora in an interaction with Ekta Srivastava, Healthtechnology.in

Please tell us in depth about ‘DOCTORS BEYOND BORDERS’?

We truly believe that today and everyday is a great day to help someone heal. We want to give people more relevant information about doctor and hospitals than they can find anywhere else. Most products and services can be found online in one or a few clicks, why not life saving and life altering treatments?

This desire is what started a dream 4 years ago where we started to aggregate the top 1% of international hospitals and doctors sharing their treatment costs, patient reviews and online consultations so we could improve the way the world gets care during life altering and life saving surgery. We now serve about 10,000 visitors a month and work with hospitals in Thailand, Dubai, Malaysia, India, Korea and Singapore assisting them in introducing their services to international patients.  Our digital ecosystem includes podcasts, telecasts of patient journeys (documentaries of treatment protocols), interviews of doctors and cutting edge technologies and specialized treatment modalities being done.

Through our journey in catering to international patients in various jurisdictions we recognized there was a huge gap in technology when it comes to connecting patients remotely to caregivers.  The quality in healthcare can improve drastically but in order to make it ubiquitous we need to work on ACCESS to that care.   India is becoming renowned for quality healthcare, welcoming patients from around the world but the access to that healthcare has yet to permeate to everyone within it’s own borders.  It was during that time, over one year ago that we met Mr. Justin Fulcher.  Fulcher has been coding and programming since the age of seven and started his first business at the age of 13. He founded a technology company called Ring.MD at the age of 21-year-old in 2013.  The startup originally raised its funding of $500,000 from Singapore’s National Research Foundation, which offers financing to brilliant young scientists and researchers.

RingMD has developed a telemedicine platform that works on a revolutionary new technology.  It allows doctors and patients to connect via HD quality video, audio and instant messenger at very low bandwidths from any digitally connected device.  This includes a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.   We have now partnered with RingMD for India and other key markets.

RingMD is fast becoming one of the the world’s largest telemedicine providers, it has partnered with Facebook via their Internet.org/Free Basics initiative to launch across 16 countries by the end of 2015. The first country launched in October 2015 and by December 1st RingMD had over 800 000 patient sign-ups  from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, Mali, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia and more. In addition, RingMD sustained over 2.5 million organic unique page views per month before the end of 2015.  RingMD is already available in 22 languages including Hindi and the platform recently integrated with Apple’s HealthKit application.

In India, The Common Services Centre initiative has partnered with RingMD to extend its offering of telemedicine services.   CSCs are a strategic cornerstone of the Digital India programme.  They are access points for delivery of electronic services to villages in India.  To achieve the ‘Digital India’ mission, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), Government of India is rolling out 2,50,000 Common Service Centers (CSCs) for various important services including but not limited to healthcare.

The objective of the memo of understanding that the CSC initiative and RingMD have signed is to use RingMD’s cutting edge technology to extend healthcare services to rural citizens’ through these established CSCs that are run by 1,33,847 Village Level Entrepreneurs across India.  Many Indians will get access to quality healthcare for the first time through this cloud based telemedicine platform that can function in low bandwidth environments.

RingMD provides access to this advanced online platform FREE OF CHARGE to doctors and patients. Doctors set their own rates for an online consultation and the patient only makes payment after a consultation is complete, a similar payment model to Uber.

What is the concept underlying DOCTORS BEYOND BORDERS? Any model that you emulate?

No, I think we are a bit unique in our no cost platform that focuses on transparency and aggregation on a global perspective.  From our estimates and research the worldwide industry of international patients is close to $55 Billion USD and yet its relatively opaque.

Look, if I want to book my ticket to Santorini, Greece – I can within a few clicks pick my flight, route, hotel, see my view, check pricing and book everything before my cup of coffee goes cold.  This is for an elective, leisure holiday – how come I can’t do the same when it comes to life altering and life saving surgery.  It’s really a need that requires attention and that is what we are trying to do.  Our product is focused on a very exclusive niche – people that are travelling for treatment.  Then within that already exclusive group we are focused only on specialized cutting edge technology that will not be available to them locally.  I think because of the amount of detail we have assembled in empirical data on our backend and how focused we are in catering to a basic human need for our target market, I have yet to see a concept that is doing the same thing.

There are organization’s focused on medical tourism but they often compete on cost and act essentially as agents and that is completely different to the DNA of our organization.

We also don’t charge fees to the patient for any of our services and monetize our platform by other means and thus we are able to be unbiased and independent in our delivery of information.

RingMD –  Like I mentioned above, RingMD has developed a peer to peer telemedicine platform that works on a revolutionary new technology.  It allows doctors and patients to connect via HD quality video, audio and instant messenger at very low bandwidths from any digitally connected device.  This includes a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

RingMD would be comparable to a hybrid of current concepts – it has similar cutting edge technology for connecting peer to peer like whatsapp, with the HD quality audio/video of Skype or the iOS Facetime along with the payment model and open platform of Uber.  All of this with customized features based on medical use and integration with the Apple HealthKit and potentially hardware in the future.

In North America, RingMD faces a moderate degree of competition yet all of other players in the market have substantial product and market deployment differences.

RingMD has limited, if any, existing competitive threat in Asia and other parts of the world. There are substantial barriers to entry considering the complexity of the technology, the unique nature of the domain, the fragmented and diverse nature of the industry, the lack of uniform healthcare systems within and across countries, and differences in languages and cultures.

What’s your vision for DBB and how affordable it is for Indians? 

The vision for DBB is global, we want to aggregate more international hospitals in the western hemisphere and keep introducing new cutting edge treatments to the markets that require them.  The product we offer in DBB is not really for Indians – because we haven’t seen a huge demand for travel to outside of India for treatment.  A big reason for this is because our healthcare is becoming one of the best in the world which is exciting.  However in saying this, the access to all, in rural and more remote reasons is a problem.

It is this issue that we are trying to tackle, it is this delivery problem we are correcting with RingMD.

On RingMD – it is absolutely a product that is ideal for the Indian market.  The platform is completely free for doctors and patients to sign up and begin using.  Doctors set their own rates and a patient is only charged after a consultation is complete.

Because its so easy to use, costs nothing to setup a virtual hospital clinic and because of its unique peer to peer technology that works at low bandwidths you literally just need a smart phone on both ends – it allows the doctor/hospital to charge less for the online HD video/audio consult and thus it makes access to world class healthcare possible for the common person.

I believe this is why the government of India’s CSC initiative has signed an MOU with us for using our technology.

In your opinion, what role do emerging technologies like Big data play in the current technology adoption for healthcare vertical?

Big data will play a major role in the future.  My thoughts are that this data when used in the context of wearable technology is a game changer.  This will allow us to monitor huge volumes of data about individuals and how their condition changed over a lifetime.  In medicine, we took a giant leap forward as we were able to analyze the human body through dissection, well wearable technology will allow us to monitor vitals in real time.  Aggregating big data across millions of people as the technology becomes the norm will allow us to carve out information regarding a specific disease that is being managed chronically – this will allow us to grow in wisdom by leaps and bounds.

One of the most exciting things about our technology at RingMD is the vision of our founder, Mr Justin Fulcher.  We recently integrated the telemedicine platform with the Apple HealthKit application so your doctor/caregiver can actually see everything that an individual is monitoring on their iOS.  This will change healthcare and the way we know it.

I will give you a practical example – I use the apple watch and monitor my resting heart rate and other vitals, this information is being synced up to my RingMD profile on the platform.  Whenever I connect with my doctor for a consultation they can proactively tell me when I’m heading for physical problems in the future.   Healthcare will shift from being reactive (getting care after we get sick) to being proactive, we can treat ourselves before we get ill.

Big data will be allow us to analyze this information on a macro level and platforms like RingMD will lead the charge in empowerment by allowing individuals to monitor their own information with the help of a caregiver in relation to the macro.

The public sector is still lagging in terms of technology adoption in India, more so for an essential sector like healthcare and pharma. What do you think should be done to encourage the use f technology in providing better services to low cost healthcare needs?

I think the CSC initiative is ground breaking.  I attended their event inaugurated by the minister of communication and technology, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad at Sirifort this past Saturday– they currently have 150,000 common service centres that provide government services, financial services, education, health services among other important services and they empower village level entrepreneurs who run these centres for a nominal commission on providing this on the village level.  I think this type of public / private partnership is essential so that a country like India that is full of vibrant, intelligent people can use free market tools as a way to help better deliver essential government services.

Also, technology providers have to be encouraged to be involved with government initiatives as much as possible.  Technology will solve a lot of current challenges that the ecosystem faces.

What benefits can a consumer reap out of technology driven healthcare?

Convenience and substantially improved patient satisfaction. Enabled access and reduced travel cost for rural families.  Cost-efficiency in both time and money.

What will be the existing opportunities in implementation of technology in healthcare?

Specific to our focus, tele-medicine.  Technology like ours, delivered on an open platform to every digitally connected device.

This cutting edge technology is revolutionizing patient care because:

  • Care is not always easily accessible nor convenient whether it’s lack of access in rural regions of developed countries, or nascent infrastructure in developing countries
  • Patients’ needs are evolving – with increases in longevity, the spectrum of illness is evolving towards increased incidence of chronic diseases and less mobility
  • Quality of care is inconsistent
  • Costs of delivery are spiraling

Make In India is the new rage. How can healthcare sector benefit from it?

We can make more localized technology to solve problems for the Indian market.  We have seen some of the recent, successful startups take a concept that is from another part of the world and then ‘Indian-ize’ its delivery.  The ‘make in India’ drive can allow us to research and deploy technology for healthcare that is locally developed.  This will likely be built for Indian application and thus will be created more efficiently.  Also, because costs are fairly competitive in India, these locally developed ideas will likely be more cost effective.

Telemedicine and wearable devices are the way forward, globally. How do you think India fares there, and what do you think should be done to meet global standards of adaptation?

I think globally we are just on the cusp of tele-medicine’s potential, not just in India.  RingMD is quite unique in our new technology that is cloud based and peer to peer – we are pioneering this in India and we are quite excited about its potential.

The great thing about new forms of technology is that because the globe is such a small place and hyper competitive we are becoming more and more efficient.  This allows us to adapt and employ latest technology at lower and lower costs.  For example our new RingMD technology and platform which was partnered by Facebook to launch in multiple countries in 2015 is now available in India.  Our platform is completely cloud based, can be accessed by a mobile phone, tablet or computer, useable in 22 languages including Hindi and thus we have access to it here in India.

In terms of adaptation, the free market is a wonderful thing – it drives us to be the best and financial incentives along with best practices in patient healthcare delivery will lead to more universal adaptation.

What are the roadblocks and challenges in Indian healthcare?

Keeping cost in control is a key challenge but I think the biggest is access.  We have really done a tremendous job in India of building world class facilities but we now have to be able to deliver that healthcare to even the remotest parts of India in order to be truly proud of our achievements in this sector.

Telemedicine, wearable technology and device integration with these will solve these problems.

What are your expectations from the new government? Will it transform the healthcare sector?

This is an exciting time to be in India, with millions coming online we are seeing a historically unprecedented digital revolution but digital literacy has to be extended to everyone.   I am proud that we’ve been able to join hands with the CSC initiative that is working hard for that inclusion.

These types of initiatives need to be extended and prioritized so that technologies like ours can help with the delivery of healthcare.  There is a natural synergy between telemedicine and now wearable devices, this is being extended to remote diagnosis and potentially remote treatment – this can completely change India dramatically.  The government has to be diligent in ensuring that digital infrastructure penetrates all parts of India.  I have heard from Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad (minister of communication and technology) about the laying of fibre optic wires for consistent internet services to remote areas of India – these are the types of things that will aid healthcare and make it both accessible and affordable.

 

 

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