Debraj Shome's father was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2008, and after some treatment the doctors gave up hope. They said it was only a matter of time before Shome's father would succumb to the disease. Shome and his friend Arbinder Singal were doctors and both had good contacts with medical establishments overseas. They located a superspecialist in lung cancer in the US who advised a new therapy. "It proved magical. Debraj's father is still alive," says Singal. The joy on his face very obvious.
That episode also got the two doctors thinking. Would it be possible to give ordinary people around the world access to superspecialists and superspeciality healthcare? An e-healthcare platform appeared to be a good idea.
"After one-and-a-half years of relentless pursuit, we recruited 300 superspecialist doctors from 20 countries. Debraj and I spoke to each one of them before we recruited them. And after running the e-platform as a pilot for some months, we formally launched it in January this year," Singal says. The doctors, half of who are in India and the other half overseas, are equipped to offer consultations for 85 specialties and sub-specialties. The charges for a superspecialist's consultation can be as low as Rs 250, though it goes up to Rs 5,000 in some cases.
Singal and Shome call their venture MediAngels, or the doctors-without-borders mission. Shome points out that no hospital in India can provide so many superspeciality options under one roof. In MediAngels, once a patient subscribes to its services, he is provided with a log-in ID. He can keep his entire medical database in the portal. Patient records are protected under the Health Information Portability & Accountability Act of the US, which is described as the most stringent law for patient record data security.
"We have world-class infrastructure support via hospital tie-ups, security systems to safeguard private data, and online storage space for medical documents and reports. We even offer a livechat feature for one-to-one communication with doctors," Shome says. Eight doctors man the portal and verify every document posted by patients before forwarding them to superspecialists. MediAngels now has around 6,000 registered clients, 75% of them from India and 25% from abroad. The doctors decline to talk about the money they make, but they say the initiative has helped solve over 300 critical cases.
Singal, 36, was born in Punjab and was brought up in Punjab and Delhi. In 2006, he moved to Mumbai and joined MJM Hospital as a pediatric urologist, which is when he met Shome, who was a friend of his wife. Shome, 34, was born in Guwahati but brought up in Mumbai. He later moved to Hyderabad to head the aesthetic surgery department at Apollo Hospital.
The two started MediAngels with a capital of Rs 2 crore pooled from family and friends. HDFC Bank provided them a seed fund of another Rs 2 crore."Being first movers in this space, changing consumer behaviour is a challenging task," confessed Shome.
The model could be particularly handy for people in semi-urban towns. Patients in tier-II and -III towns need to travel to the city to consult a good doctor, leading to the loss of a complete man-day. The MediAngels model could save them time and transportation costs, and a lot of trouble. To enhance reach and accessibility, the two have started several new initiatives. They are working to establish internet kiosks in remote areas manned by people who can assist those who can’t use the internet or the MediAngels facility. They are building a call centre helpline for patients in areas where internet penetration is not good. They are also looking at launching a mobile service.
Singal and Shome now work six days a week for MediAngels, and devote one day a week to two hospitals, Fortis and MJM in Mumbai. "We don’t want to lose our clinical acumen. And staying in touch with such
big names (hospitals) help us to talk to doctors abroad."