When it comes to dispensing healthcare, telemedicine has emerged as an innovative method of bridging the accessibility gap. Start-ups are leading the way. One such enterprise, Mfine, has just collected a massive cash injection to further its efforts to expand access to telemedicine services. It is the latest e-health development in India, suggesting a digital health revolution that has been underway for quite some time shows no signs of slowing down.
Mfine, a Bengaluru-based firm, acquired US$ 17.2 million in a round of series B funding led by the Japanese SBI Group through its venture capital (VC) arm, SBI Investment Co. Ltd., and its sister agency, Singapore-based SBI Ven Capital. International VC firm, Beenext, also contributed to the financing, which included funding from Mfine’s existing investors Stellaris Venture Partners and Prime Venture Partners. Series A funding resulted in a cash infusion of US$4 .2 million. The company has raised US$24 million to date.
Mfine can act as a boon for patients who may struggle to access a person-to-person consultation with a doctor. According to the company’s website, the system allows patients to enter their symptoms and get instantly connected with a doctor via chat or videoconferencing for confidential consultations. Through the service, patients can receive digital prescriptions, unlimited free follow-ups, and medical advice such as dietary recommendations and reminders to take medication.
“India’s doctor-patient ratio is a mere one physician for every 11,082 Indians. This falls far short of World Health Organization (WHO) standards of one doctor for every thousand people.”
“In India, at a macro-level, good doctors are far and few and distributed very unevenly,” CEO Prasad Kompalli was quoted as saying by TechCrunch. “We asked, ‘Can we build a platform that is a very large hospital on the cloud?,’ that’s the fundamental premise.” The extra financing will help the company expand its network of doctors in accredited hospitals, providing a network of healthcare practitioners with whom patients can interact.
E-health ventures, especially in telemedicine, are becoming more common in India owing to the country’s shortage of doctors. According to the findings of the National Health Portal last year, India’s doctor-patient ratio is a mere one physician for every 11,082 Indians. This falls far short of World Health Organization (WHO) standards of one doctor for every thousand people. The findings came despite earlier claims that India’s doctor-patient ratio had improved to one doctor for every 921 people.
Shortages of doctors are especially pronounced in specialist disciplines, such as gynaecology, paediatrics and surgery. To ameliorate the situation, both Congress and the BJP pledged to make efforts to increase India’s medical manpower in their manifestos for this year’s elections. But whilst the doctor-patient ratio continues to be as dismal as it is, telemedicine endeavours such as Mfine can offer a lifeline for Indians unable to avail medical attention.
“Areas suffering from limited internet connectivity and digital infrastructure will not be able to reap the benefits of e-health innovations such as Mfine. When it comes to digital infrastructure, there exists still a significant urban-rural divide. Internet penetration, for example, was 64.84 percent in urban areas 2017, compared to just 20.26 percent in rural areas. This comes even as the number of internet users is projected to reach 627 million this year.”
As previously reported by Health Issues India, telemedicine can serve as particular relief for rural Indians who bear the brunt of doctor shortages. Sixty percent of India’s doctors cater to the cities, despite rural areas housing seventy percent of India’s population. Many startups and non-profit organisations have invested in telemedicine as a means of bridging this gap.
The system is not perfect: areas suffering from limited internet connectivity and digital infrastructure will not be able to reap the benefits of e-health innovations such as Mfine. When it comes to digital infrastructure, there exists still a significant urban-rural divide. Internet penetration, for example, was 64.84 percent in urban areas 2017, compared to just 20.26 percent in rural areas. This comes even as the number of internet users is projected to reach 627 million this year.
This notwithstanding, investments in telemedicine can still bring relief to rural Indians, going some way to connect those with internet access and potentially allowing understaffed primary and community health centres in rural India to reach doctors remotely for consultations with patients. This emphasises the continued value of digital innovators in India’s healthcare scene, such as Mfine and others profiled by Health Issues India in the past such as Practo. Nonetheless, digital innovation cannot be treated as an ultimate pancaea for India’s healthcare woes: continued investment into expanding resources and personnel in rural India is still a public health necessity.