Digitisation of health care services to a large extent is the need of the hour as far as accessibility & availability is concerned

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Saurabh Soni, Co-Founder DigiSparsh explains Kalyani Sharma about his start-up and company’s future plans

Walk us through the journey of DigiSparsh 

I & my partner Akhilesh Gandhi have known each other for the last four years. We connected during our last stints when we were collaborating for a tie-up in the digital lending space targeted towards merchants. We clicked well and realised that both of us have complimenting skillsets as he comes from a tech background & I come from a business background. The common connection for us though was our love and passion for Indian healthcare. Akhilesh had expertise in health tech and growing up I too had huge exposure to the sector due to my family’s business in healthcare.

So, though the desire to venture into it was always there, the drive to launch DigiSparsh only grew stronger as we closely started monitoring Covid 19’s impact on healthcare financing in early 2020.

We soon realised that hospitals were deeply underfunded, there was a huge shortage of working capital and lending overall was a very under-penetrated segment.

We wanted to ensure in testing times like these no patient should have to think about money to access quality health care and the very hospitals they count on, to save their lives should have enough capital to expand services when needed.

We soon realised it was only through tech-enabled, pure digital products and services could we reach hospitals quickly & solve key pain points. Thus, we decided to launch DigiSparsh in May 2020.

As far as the B2B segment is concerned, DigiSparsh is a pure-play fintech that focuses on lending to the entire value chain of healthcare which includes hospitals, patients & suppliers predominantly. We started working on the product platform for the first 6-7 months post the launch, then started typing up with lenders at the back end to solve lending requirements and health care aggregators at the front end who help us bring hospitals on board as customers.

Can you throw some light on the current healthcare insurance market scenario in India? Do you think there are still some challenges and gaps that need to be filled? Your view 

The current healthcare ecosystem has witnessed some dramatic changes post-pandemic.

We see health insurance suddenly becoming the highest premium contributor to the sector surpassing motor as well. I see this trend continuing in the coming years as well.

However, what has been more strikingly alarming is the process and duration involved in insurance claim settlement. This requires a lot of agility & innovation for reducing the TAT (turnaround time) currently burdening hospitals and patients. What I mean is, on average, an insurer takes 45 days to settle a claim which can be done easily within a day using AI & Automation.

Besides this, adding to the challenge is the outdated reimbursement settlement process for patients where one has to wait for 30 days on average to get the claims settled.

According to the IRDA report of 19-20, Rs. 45783 Cr worth of health insurance claims were registered in India, out of which Rs 16866 Cr i.e., 38 % of total claims worth of claims was reimbursement claims (where the patient pays from her/his pocket & then gets it reimbursed from the insurance company).

This happens largely because hospitals, where care is received, are not part of the insurer’s network. Some hospitals even refuse to register a cashless case for treatment. Thus, patients end up suffering & paying from their pocket. All during a highly stressful period of caring for your loved one who is undergoing treatment at the hospital.

At DigiSparsh we have solved both these problems by offering an invoice discounting product against insurance claim settlement for hospitals & reimbursement financing product for patients.

We help hospitals with the settlement of claims within few hours, provide collateral-free loans at affordable rates of interest through a fully digital and hassle-free process!

What is the need of the hour as far as ‘Accessibility & Availability’ of healthcare in India is concerned? 

We need to look at this problem with a fourfold, multidimensional approach:

  • Digital First: First, digitisation of health care services to a large extent is the need of the hour as far as accessibility & availability is concerned. The government of India’s NDHM (National Digital Health Mission) is a great initiative and needs to be implemented quickly! Further, the consulting also need to ramp up. We are increasingly seeing many new-age companies working in this segment already! Even more, players are needed.
  • Address shortage of doctors: A large concern for us as a country is to address the shortage of doctors! Our patient to doctor ratio is currently 1:1500 compared to 1:1000 a benchmark set by WHO. To address this deeply our medical education system needs a major rehaul
  • Have an asset-light model: It is key to reduce the infrastructural burden. We cannot build hospitals overnight and nor can patients wait to have medical access. The asset-light model ensures you reach as many hospitals by simply connecting them to existing hospitals and not building new ones
  • Lastly, the accessibility of healthcare depends a lot on insurance penetration. The insurance penetration in India currently is around 30-35% (including government schemes) and only 10-12% if we exclude the government schemes. We need to increase these numbers dramatically and also come up with innovative lending products for patients.

There is silent out of pocket expense crisis that is currently brewing in the country which needs immediate attention. A service provider needs to provide new age products that include maximum coverage so customers don’t end up paying from their own pockets!

At DigiSparsh we understand all these challenges currently making healthcare inaccessible for millions. This is why we have a 0% interest offer for patients and also a product where we provide insurance claim settlement services along with lending for reimbursement claims.

We are the first and only company in the country to provide both these offerings. Hence working as a one-stop shop for hospitals, patients and vendors working with the healthcare ecosystem!

Please highlight the future plans of the company? Any new partnership or collaboration in the pipeline?

DigiSparsh is still at a nascent stage and indeed have a long way to go! We will transform and adapt depending on the requirements of the healthcare ecosystem which itself is going through a sea of changes.

Thus, having any long-term plans will only devoid us of the agility that is needed to solve the problems of tomorrow!

However, we are extremely bullish on capacity building. Our immediate plan is to acquire 100 health tech aggregators & through them, we plan to acquire 1000 hospitals in the coming three years which is equivalent to acquiring one hospital per day.

We are on a mission to penetrate all three segments: Hospitals, suppliers & patients through our innovative offerings. We will also be launching our lending & leasing solution for the medical equipment business in the coming months that will directly address the equipment shortage faced by many hospitals that can’t necessarily afford to buy new ones.

Currently, we have tied up with three NBFCs and plan to tie up with two more banks to reduce costs for end consumers.

As far as partnerships are concerned, we already working with nine leading aggregators Additionally we have also recently tied up three more health aggregators who are not just active in the hospital segment, having access to more than 400 hospitals but also active in the pharma supply chain segment, managing more than a Billion USD worth supply. Besides this, we also tied up with a large teleconsultation player in the patient financing business.

A lot ahead of us & the health care sector! While we collectively dealt with COVID- 19 in 2020 & 21, in 22 we will deal with the aftermath of the pandemic. What we as a company, sector and country do now will set the tone for the rest of the decade!

fintechHealth Insurance
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