If consumers can bank online or buy an insurance policy online, why can't they buy an online health service? This was the thought that crossed the mind of Sonal Sachdev, a former executive editor at NDTV Profit, when he gave up his career as a journalist and decided to become an entrepreneur. Sachdev's online medical supermarket, Saral Health, is three weeks old and has already managed 300-odd transactions. In a conversation with Ajita Shashidhar, Sachdev talks about the business model of Saral Health (currently rolled out in Bangalore), which he claims is the country's first online medical supermarket. Excerpts from the conversation:
Q How did the idea of an online medical supermarket come to you?
A When I started my journey as an entrepreneur, I was exploring areas where there would be opportunities. Health is an area which has always made me wonder as to why facilities can't be made more accessible. When I moved to Mumbai five years ago to join NDTV, my son happened to fall sick and it took us a while to find a decent pathology lab closer to home. I have been toying with the idea of how to make health care accessible and easier since then.
I have seen a lot of people struggling to find a home nurse or a wheel chair for an ailing member in their family. Somebody may need to be given an injection or may need help to get his/her blood pressure monitored at home. There could be an old person or a sick person who may want lab testing facilities offered at his doorstep. So, how about offering all these facilities under one roof, is something I have always wondered.
Q Can you elaborate on how you have aggregated all these services under one umbrella?
A We offer more than 5,000 health products, which include over-the-counter medicines, orthopaedic aids, appointments with doctors in leading hospitals as well as lab testing bookings. We are also getting into equipment rentals. So, if somebody needs an oxygen cylinder at home, they can rent instead of buying it.
We have partnered with the likes of Apollo Hospitals, Manipal Hospital and Fortis in Bangalore. We enable consumers to reach out to their panel of doctors online and book appointments. We have also tied up with a number of pathology labs, whereby people can book their lab testing online.
Q So, if I as a consumer need an appointment with a doctor at say, Manipal Hospital in Bangalore, how can I go about it through Saral Health? Do I have to make the payment online?
A You can book your appointment with the doctor you wish to see online on Saral Health. You don't need to call the hospital. No, you don't need to pay online for a consultation, you can pay at the hospital after you see the doctor.
Q Do you have a revenue share deal with the hospital concerned?
A Yes, we do.
Q You offer a lot of products at discounted prices. How do you manage that?
A Most discounts are in medical products and equipment. A product like a blood pressure monitor operates on huge margins. That is why we are able to offer discounts. A paracetamol doesn't give margins.
Q You mentioned that within the first three weeks of launch, Saral Health did around 60-odd transactions? What kind of services did consumers opt for?
A The transactions were predominantly product-based. Booking a lab test online or a doctor's consultation will happen when habits build up.
Q Are you planning a national roll-out of Saral Health?
A We want to first perfect the business model in Bangalore before we roll it out in other cities. We definitely have plans to roll out Saral Health nationally.
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