The market of healthcare startups is still at a nascent stage in India, though early entrants such as Practo and 1mg have gained some traction thanks to their extensive network of partners and the growing number of smartphone users in the country. These apps have grown their network largely by partnering with individual healthcare professionals. But Bengaluru-based Mfine has a different plan.
Founded in February last year by Myntra co-founder Ashutosh Lawania and former Myntra Business Head Prasad Kompalli, Mfine is partnering with hospitals and healthcare institutions. And as is the trend, the startup says it is also using its in-house AI algorithms to bolster its offerings.
"We are focused on bringing trusted, reputable, and high-quality hospitals into digital space and are not a marketplace of individual doctors," Kompalli tells Gadgets 360. "Our AI-powered tech system can scale quality care and make it reach to millions of people. These two aspects make us very unique in the way we build Mfine as a tech-led, consumer experience-focused business."
"We are building the most sophisticated healthcare delivery channel for primary and secondary care - a category we call Cloud Clinic," he adds. "The Cloud Clinic is designed to deliver high-quality care from the biggest and the best in healthcare via an always-on, on-demand service."
The idea is to try and find solutions to some inherent challenges in the Indian healthcare sector. According to a recent report by NASSCOM, India has a low density of skilled health professionals with just 27.5 professionals per 10,000 population. Kompalli underlines that India has a low doctor-patient ratio at 1:500, if we leave out freshly graduated MBBS doctors, with as many as 30 percent of Indians without access to primary healthcare facilities. The NASSCOM report also notes that there is a significant divide between cities and remote areas, and as much as 62.4 percent of healthcare expenses coming out of the patients' pocket. All this brings the need for a simple healthcare platform.
"Technology is the only viable solution to be able to cope with the low doctor-patient ratio, predominantly out-of-pocket spending, and inaccessibility of quality care," says Kompalli. "We are creating a system where quality healthcare can be accessed on demand from anywhere."
Initially, Mfine is operating in Bengaluru with 35 healthcare institutions on board, bringing along 75 doctors and 12 specialties. There are names such as CloudNine, Femiint Health, and Aster CMI Hospitals that are presently available through Mfine to offer on-demand consultancy in the fields of general medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, gynecology, dietetics, orthopedics, fertility, cardiology, pulmonology, and general surgery. In the first six months after its launch, the startup hosted more than 10,000 consultations through its platform that can be accessed via the Mfine app on Android and iOS devices. The app claims to have already served over 25,000 users across India, though the platform currently has hospitals and healthcare institutions from Bengaluru only.
Mfine says it only partners with hospitals and institutions that have NABH accreditation and the individual doctors need to have been practising for at least 10 years.
The Mfine app lets patients select the hospital and the doctor with whom they wish to talk to. Patients can directly chat or do a video consult with doctors. Additionally, the Mfine app allows patients to upload images, past medical records, and prescriptions. It additionally helps patients store previous their medical history and set reminders for the medicines for better adherence to the given prescriptions. While the process of getting the patient data is similar to other platforms, Mfine says it is using AI and machine learning efforts to assist doctors in their diagnosis and treatment.
"As data sources for the AI system, we use global standards in the symptom, disease ontologies, literature, and research data, and most importantly all interactions, data, and context captured on Mfine itself," reveals Kompalli. "We are able to create a standard reference system for doctors in each specialty, that's powered by a combination of well-established medical protocols and our learning system's algorithms. The same expert system is also used to power the experience on the consumer app also, be it structured and effortless data collection, reminders for follow up based on signs and symptoms and the execution of care protocols for chronic conditions."
With user data being used for machine learning, what about privacy? "Patient data is encrypted and secure," says Kompalli. "The ownership is completely with the patient and need his/ her consent to be seen by the doctor. All our internal algorithms require and working on only anonymised data and results of the algorithms are used to improve the patient and doctor experience with the app. We have no business model [that involves selling data] and intent to use data for any other purpose."
Dedicated digital assistant for doctors and wearables for patients
As data is the key to any AI-based system, Kompalli tells Gadgets 360 that Mfine initially found it as a challenge to get access to good data, but it eventually started the journey with some public domain data and built its native algorithms on top of data available in the journals and other publications. "We use standard medical terminology, knowledge bases, and protocols as the foundational basis and on top, we built our learning system," the executive adds.
To verify the operations of the AI-backed system, Mfine has a team of 20 doctors. The in-house team of doctors also help to maintain the product and prepare different models for upfront data collection.
In addition to using AI as an integral part of its platform, Mfine is building a dedicated digital assistant to help doctors. "Unlike any generic digital assistants, our digital assistant is very domain-specific," highlights Kompalli. "The assistant understands different diseases and helps doctors examine patients thoroughly. Being a text-based assistant, it helps doctors get their inputs as a case file. So when a patient is telling that he has fever or throat pain, the assistant is able to ask associated symptoms to the patients. It may ask the patient if you have a cough or high temperature as well. Depending on the answers, the assistant understands what might be the problems."
Mfine is aiming to go beyond smartphones and use wearables to offer continuous monitoring and proactive care to patients. "We will be integrating with all wearables, particularly the ones that record some clinically relevant data like heart rate and hypertension," divulges Kompalli. "We'll be building the capability to read such data from the devices and store it in health records of the patients in the app."
Mfine is set to use various wearables such as smartwatches and fitness bands to bring the next level of healthcare service. Kompalli tells Gadgets 360 that the startup wants to be across platforms, including Apple's watchOS. However, he reveals that the initial model that will reach the experimental stage later this year will be limited to some glucometers and devices measuring hypertension and other vitals.
Going forward, Mfine is aiming to expand its hospital network and it aims to have partners in five Indian cities by the end of this year. While the exact cities are yet to be decided, Kompalli asserts that the startup is primarily targeting some of the metro and tier-I cities such as Delhi, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Pune but has no plans to get hospitals from any tier-II and tier-III cities or small towns and rural areas at least for the next six months.
Mfine notably raised $4.2 million (roughly Rs. 29.44 crores) in May in a Series A round led by Prime Venture Partners along with existing investors, including Stellaris Venture Partners and healthcare entrepreneur Mayur Abhaya. The company says the funds are being utilised for marketing, business development, technology and hiring new talent. The startup is also aiming to hire PhDs in different aspects of AI to further enhance its platform. Furthermore, the team that already has a headcount of 60 people is looking to add engineers who can develop a rich mobile interface. "We will continually expand the specialties that we will offer and make Mfine a comprehensive care platform for families and individuals," Kompalli concludes.