The doctor gets a digi dose

Sep 13, 2011, 10:35 IST | Yolande D'Mello

Why are IT professionals taking a keen interest in India's healthcare industry, with special focus on bettering the doctor-patient relationship? Here's a future marked by prescriptions via email and livechats with docs

You must brush twice daily," says dental surgeon Dr Abhijit Mohanty, his voice muffled from behind a mouth mask, as he peeps into his patient's gaping mouth. The man in the dentist's chair flinches at the familiar sound of the drill as it makes its way to his sore grinder. As he spits out a mouthful of water and explains how he has never missed an appointment, Dr Mohanty catches the bluff.

Dr Mohanty's clinic in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, functions at what he calls a "high level of productivity", ever since he opted for the services of Practo, an online practice management software that allows doctors to maintain detailed records of patient history, appointments, treatment and bills.

The man behind Practo is Shashank ND, a Bengaluru entrepreneur who launched the company in 2009 after he struggled to acquire a second medical opinion when his father was undergoing an orthopaedic surgery. "I had to collate all the reports, scan them and send them over to a surgeon in the US. It took over 15 days, and was an utter waste of time," says Shashank, a software engineer from the National Institute of Technology Surathkal in Mangalore, Karnataka.

In their second year in business, Practo has 10,000 doctors who subscribe to the service in 70 cities across India.

With batchmate Abhinav Lal, Shashank began developing a management model that would introduce doctors into the information age. "Doctors don't tend to be tech-savvy. It was therefore imperative that we made Practo simple and user-friendly." 

At 38, Dr Mohanty is open to innovation. "Using latest technology is crucial. If you don't adapt, you will be left behind. My patients look at it as an added service. It's convenient that they have digitised records available in a second. Besides, it reduces my administrative burden. Earlier, I had to remember which treatment plan I had suggested for which patient."

Impressing patients doesn't come cheap. Dr Mohanty spends an annual recurring fee of Rs 6,000. The service includes a web page which lends him an online presence, and the chance to receive feedback from patients.

Dr Mohanty opted for a 14-day free trial, with a video lecture that explained its easy functioning. Set to the tune of pop band Abba's 1975 single Mama Mia, the video is a user's guide to the software. Practo lets you log in from any computer with a password and schedule appointments. SMS reminders are automatically sent to patients. Digitised medical records, including X-rays and scans can be accessed along with prior prescriptions. Doctors can also keep tabs on the number of patients visiting them and the fees earned.

While Practo might be just what the doctor ordered, Shashank clarifies that his is not a medical company. "We deal with information technology. We are not into the business of diagnosis. Our software doesn't provide medical tabulations or observations. So, all the information must be provided by the doctor himself."

While patients could be concerned about their entire medical history being made available online, Shashank cures such worries with security measures such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) security software and HIPPA complaint servers that make sure your medical information doesn't leak.

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As the nation is involved in securing for its citizens a Unique Identification Number card, Avin S Jain's ADIS India offers patients a Unique Health Identity card that functions much like a social

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