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Docsuggest Looks To Aggregate Doctor Appointment Bookings & Reviews

Docsuggest is a healthcare services company, that allows patients to search for doctors for specific ailments, and completes the loop by allowing them to book appointments. Other ventures in India – sites like Eatherway, LocalDoctor, DrSupport, among others – are looking to do the same. Docsuggest aggregates information on doctors and hospitals – like the doctors degree, experience, expertise, fees, insurance options etc – and collects feedback from patients, so that the upcoming patient has something to go by. An appointment can be booked from a call center or their website. The company, which has recently launched operations in Bangalore, its second city after Hyderabad, did about 2500 appointments in the last month, and says that around 10,000 people used its site.

There’s a similar service in Sri Lanka that we’d written about earlier, called e-Channeling, except that Docsuggest doesn’t collect money up from the patients for the appointment, and gets payment from the clinics and hospitals instead. This is surprising, since one would normally assume that the demand supply gap is in favor of doctors rather than patients (hence, why would the doctor pay more?), and doctors must be choc-a-bloc with appointments.

Why Charge Doctors: Speaking with MediaNama, Docsuggest Founder Shantanu Jha explained that while from outside while it may appear that hospitals and clinics are overflowing with customers, they are all looking at more valuable patients and, being run as businesses, are looking at increasing their revenue. “The second thing is – how do you manage the footfalls? This way, the patient will come to the doctor a time that he specifies, and we’re reducing the overhead in terms of managing the queue.”

Jha is strongly against charging users for the bookings, and even when they sign contracts with hospitals, Docsuggest ensures that it is in their contract that the user cannot be overcharged. “The background on this is that hospitals have been paying referral fee to various different sources of patients. Now this referral fee has been unethical so far, and the patient going to the doctor is under the impression that he is being sent to the right doctor and the right hospital. We’re giving him the opportunity to select the right doctor, and we’re not suggesting that the patient should go to a particular hospital. If he selects the doctor, we get paid. We see it that this has to be a free service,” he says.

Docsuggest has signed up around 2000 doctors in Hyderabad so far, and around 500 in Bangalore.

Bookings Mostly Through Call Center: About 75% of the appointments on Docsuggest are through their call center. While call centers don’t necessarily scale as easily as automated solutions, Jha believes that healthcare is always going to be a local thing, and not many people are net savvy.

Revenue Model: The company, as mentioned before, charges doctors and hospitals on the basis of appointments – they get a revenue share from hospitals, usually around 12.5%-15%. They validate patient bookings by sending information to the hospital under a unique ID, and on the basis of the billing at the end of the month against that ID, they raise and invoice. Jha said that they decided not to go for a flat fee structure for hospitals because they’re in a position to validate the bill amount. “For individual practioners we can’t validate the revenue, so we charge Rs 100 for the treatment.”

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Ticket Size: They make, on an average, Rs 200 per patient. Jha said that initially the deals were such that they were variable – around 10-15% revenue share. The deals that they’re doing now are of a fixed percentage.

Reconciliation & Collection cycle: Jha claims that around 80% of people who book appointments turn up. They have monthly billing cycles, and about 80% of the revenue is collected within one month, and the remaining 20% within 2 months.

Discovery: “We have two ways of being found – we have we get leads from different sources, and people find us through Google. We tie up with medical shops, diagnostic centers, we do very targeted kind of marketing. I have a tie up with 700 medical shops, who display our poster and tell people about docsuggest. We’re looking to tie up with (telecom) operators if possible”

Software Integration, but needs manual intervention: Hospitals and individual clinics have their own IT infrastructure, and Docsuggest integrates with its appointment scheduler, and for billing purposes. “At the same time, we need to manually crosscheck whether the doctor is going to be there or not. In the US, they maintain synchronization with their software, but here, while there is automation, there is always a manual allocation,” Jha says. This is where the call center also comes into the picture.

On Reviews & Conflicts: Jha says that it makes sense for them to have reviews because it helps patients take decisions. “Reviews are important for patients. 80% of my patients come for me to search for a relevant doctor, then they book appointments. They tend to go by what people who have already met the doctor have to say.” But how they deal with negative reviews and doctors? “The way we pitch it to doctors and hospitals – lets say a patient comes to you with a bad experience, here you have an opportunity to understand why there has been a bad experience, and you can monitor it and learn from it. Given a choice wherein you can come in on the review and provide your own opinion on it.” He adds that they share the reviews with the hospital, and the patient can take the review down, but not the doctor. Reviews usually average out, and Doctors do not usually complain about it. “It is a concern when we are selling it, but not in the long run.”

Funding Status & Growth Plans: The company raised funding from Indiagames CEO Vishal Gondal and former Microsoft Corporate VP Sanjay Parthasarathy in March.The company is not even close to break even, but they are looking to grow the business. After Hyderabad, they launched in Bangalore, and are planning to launch in Delhi and Mumbai by January, and Chennai by March 2012 end.

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