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( By Dr Aniruddha Malpani )

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Chapter 15 - Healthcare entrepreneurs, disruptive innovation, and Information Therapy

Mr Ashok Jain, CEO, Oxygen Healthcare

Dr Kumar has been running a successful medical practice since the last sixteen years. However, he hasn't evolved with the changing times. He still doles out his regular prescriptions, and rarely ever engages his patients in their treatment. This is making him lose out on new patients, and many of his existing ones are deserting him to go to doctors who practise in well-equipped corporate hospitals. Interestingly, he is facing competition not just from more well-informed doctors but also from non-medical entrepreneurs!

Simply talking to patients and dispensing health information is not the same as providing Information Therapy. Patients are anxious and worried because medical procedures are complex and expensive; and doctors often use jargon to make even simple matters more complicated! Information Therapy is required by patients to reduce their anxiety, increase their compliance,and get better results.Doctors also need it so they can get better treatment outcomes, more loyal patients, and less medicolegal complications. In a sense, Information Therapy is akin to the other IT (Information Technology) - they both improve decision-making and overall quality of life. In fact, a controlled clinical trial (which doctors love to do!) would show that Information Therapy is much more potent than a Placebo (the standard by which all medicines are measured).

It is a huge business opportunity. We need to remember that healthcare spending in India today accounts for less than 4.2% of the GDP, whereas in most developed countries, it is 6-9% and in the USA, it is as much as 16%. This means that there is immense growth potential. All doctors are not just medical professionals. Since they run a practice, they are also entrepreneurs (even though they sometimes do not recognize this). One would expect doctors, who are educated and intelligent, to be able to clearly see this opportunity and work on developing tools to improve the system. However, this is easier said than done. Did Nokia see the iPhone usurping the market? Barnes and Noble never understood the potential of Amazon, Microsoft did not understand search engines, and Google did not foresee the power of social networking. Marketing Myopia turns the mighty into mere mortals! The healthcare industry has become sick, and disruptive innovations are needed to heal it.

Since doctors deal with patients daily, clearly they can see these opportunities as well. So why don't they capitalize on them? I feel that there are many reasons for this. For one, doctors are part of the problem themselves. They are so used to making patients wait that they don't even realize that this unnecessary waiting creates a lot of patient dissatisfaction. All doctors think they have great bedside manners and excellent communication skills, so they feel they personally don't need to improve. After all, if they weren't good, would they be so busy and have so many patients waiting to see them? Why fix something that isn't broken?

Also, most doctors are quite conservative. They are taught to accept the status quo - and many believe that what was fine for my medical professors is fine for me. Medical training does not teach doctors to think out of the box or encourage risk-taking, which is why very few of them have the courage to strike out on their own. Some also feel that they lack the managerial skills required to run a business. Moreover, there are very few role models for them to emulate, so these business opportunities are often well-disguised.

The trouble is that doctors cannot see the forest because they are too close to the trees - they are so focused on taking care of each individual patient that they lose the ability to think in terms of the big picture. The tragedy is that even though they are often in the best position to craft effective solutions, since they are smart and understand the pain points of both doctors and patients, they have failed to do so, and this gap has been filled by others like me who can see the opportunity!

Medical entrepreneurs need to grab new opportunities and think beyond their clinical duties and responsibilities. They need to understand their patients' requirements, and realize that prescriptions are not enough. They need to understand the power of Information Therapy. Doctors, with all their skills and medical knowledge, are in the best position to harness the power of Information Therapy. If they do not, non-medical entrepreneurs like me will grab this opportunity.

Since the last decade, Oxygen has been taking advantage of the Oxygen TV brand. We have 2,500 TVs installed in doctor's clinics in 12 cities all across India which help to engage patients and educate them, before their consultations with the doctor. This way, patients do not get upset with their doctors if they are late, since they can utilise this time to learn more about how to improve their health. We have been able to successfully monetize this, because companies which sell consumer health products are very happy to pay for the service of displaying their ads to patients who are waiting in their doctor's clinics. They are a captive audience - and because they are very aware of their health problems at this time, they are much more receptive to learning more about their health. We expect to grow three times in size in the next five years!

Since doctors deal with patients daily, why don't more of them take advantage of these business opportunities to improve their net worth? Where are all the medical entrepreneurs in India? I am hopeful that with the constant advances in an ever-changing healthcare world, a new shift in the healthcare domain will take place, in the form of medical and non-medical entrepreneur partnerships and doctors will be willing to put down their stethoscopes and start thinking big. This, like all healthy partnerships, will create a win-win situation for both parties, and go a long way in extending the scope of Information Therapy.