Business as usual does not work. We are in a time when we have to rethink a lot of basic ground rules and assumptions of our civilisations - Justin Trudeau
If there is one fact that every leader heading a rapidly growing startup will tell you, it is that there is nothing usual in business. As Gautam Buddha said, 'we are reborn each day', with our own unique challenges, achievements and moments in waiting. Sometimes, there are rewards, and on other occasions, challenges that threaten to disrupt everything you have gained. This is why embarking on a start-up journey is not for the faint of the heart. However, for those who do, it is an incredible exciting and fulfilling experience.
As 2020 unfolded, things turned from challenging to daunting with the world having to battle a 100-year pandemic cycle in addition to all the existing challenges. There was nobody who predicted Covid-19 and none who had braced for its impact beforehand. The year was not about minor modifications or changes in businesses or organisations. While some companies got tailwinds, others had to shut shop. The pandemic has reiterated how as entrepreneurs we must be alert to black swan events and be ready.
For instance, when I started Customer Asset in 2000, it ran well for some time. However, after one year, 9/11 occurred. All outsourcing came to a standstill and business was hampered as the country went into a shell. However, that was just one country, and I could still look at other areas to compensate for that loss. But Covid-19 has made the entire world go into a standstill mode and this is a huge learning.
During Covid-19, the healthcare industry perhaps absorbed the maximum impact since conventional ways of healthcare operations and delivery had to be abandoned in a hurry. There was a need to rethink diagnosis, assistance and treatment.
Unlike other sectors, healthcare is people centric. We could not suddenly stop providing services. The responsibilities and concerns of healthcare providers are not limited to patients and their families but also extend to frontline healthcare workers. There was a need to ensure their safety even as organisations such as ours went about restructuring service delivery models and processes overnight. For Portea Medical, the fact that we already operated in the out-of-hospital healthcare services domain helped. There was a need to swiftly redirect processes and personnel to form associations with various stakeholders.
At Portea, our business was driven by a heavily hands-on approach. Consequently, I, along with the entire leadership team travelled regularly to the 22 cities that we operate in. By going out into the field, I was able to not only understand the peculiar challenges and operational conditions in each of the 22 cities, but also motivate the teams. However, this crisis meant that we needed to manage the entire operation centrally, remotely, without reducing the care being provided to our customers. And while non-clinical teams had to work from home, frontline healthcare workers and clinicians had to continue visiting patients at their homes, while taking the most appropriate precautions. It was a learning experience for our senior team members on how to manage the team and motivate them to continue providing healthcare without being with them on the field.
I have always believed in empowering people with access to top quality healthcare for themselves and their families - which was one of the prime drivers behind starting Portea. Over time, I have witnessed a holistic change in the healthcare ecosystem which has impacted all the relevant stakeholders. In the past, a patient would usually visit a doctor's clinic or the nearest hospital. However, the pandemic forced out-patient departments in hospitals to be shut and even visiting the local doctor's clinic became risky. There was a need for patients to get familiarised with tele-consultation, remote monitoring and diagnostics through digital means. We leveraged our digital infrastructure to support this changing mindset and gave the necessary consultation and assistance. My focus going forward is on developing digital solutions which can be integrated seamlessly with the currently running physical services that Portea is providing on ground. As is normal during any natural calamity, governments also came under a lot of scrutiny. They thus needed a lot of support from healthcare providers. Given this, we swiftly repurposed our technical expertise and created novel solutions such as Covid-19 chatbots to spread awareness and authentic information. We worked with multiple state governments in helping them manage home isolated Covid positive patients by monitoring them remotely with the help of technology and medical expertise.
I see the need for us to get further embedded into the family and life of our patients, as their lifelong health partner. We worked closely with pharma companies and insurance firms to see how they could serve their customer base better. For the first time, insurance companies started to look at including home healthcare in their policies. We supported them in rolling this out. Around this time, there was also demand from various corporates for services around isolation and check-ups. We helped companies such as Capgemini provide digital monitoring of home-isolated Covid employees and families. We are also enabling them in bringing employees back in a safe and sound environment, screening them using new digital point of care solutions.
Today, there is a clear need to re-imagine our public healthcare apparatus. We are keen to explore how to create an effective healthcare channel. A system that integrates care using digital platform, home, community and in-hospital healthcare seamlessly should become the norm. The pandemic has shown how home-based care is destined to play a central role in healthcare system of future. It has given a new and urgent impetus to implement digital health solutions at scale to manage the disease burden. A key lesson that has emerged from this pandemic is that a combination of remote patient monitoring and tele-consultation can foster a more holistic, longitudinal and ultimately effective approach to taking care of health and health issues. Covid-19 may have brought about losses, misery, challenges and suffering. But it just might be this churning that leads us to realise how we need to elevate our entire healthcare ecosystem to the 21st century level through both public-private partnerships and a long-term strategic plan that has technology at the centre of affairs.
(The author is CEO & MD, Portea Medical)