Express Healthcare

The pandemic and adoption of technology in healthcare has brought a quantum shift in the sector in India and around the world

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Punit Singh Soni, Founder & CEO, Suki AI in an interaction with Express Healthcare talks about his company’s plans for Indian market and role of technology in healthcare sector

Can you please walk us through the journey of the company?

After spending many years at Google and time as the Chief Product Officer at Flipkart, I wanted to take a stab at solving something that could have a significant societal impact. I was interested in healthcare, and I spent a few months shadowing doctors to learn about how they work and their pain points. In these sessions, it struck me that the doctor was typically the most distracted person in the appointment room. They were trying to listen to their patients while also capturing relevant details in the electronic health record (EHR), systems that are not known for being intuitive and easy to use. I felt it was a huge disservice that these highly trained medical professionals had to spend so much time on clerical work instead of patient care and I felt technologies like ML, NLP, could be used to alleviate this burden. So, that’s how I started Suki and we have been growing ever since helping clinicians to do what they do the best-treating patients.

There have been several major challenges throughout the journey. The most significant is that the healthcare industry is conservative, slow-moving, and somewhat at odds with startup culture, which is fast-moving and typically operating under shorter time horizons. Building a healthcare startup requires more resources, a long-term view of what we are building and what we are trying to accomplish, and a great team that understands the vision, executes against it, and has the patience to endure lengthy sales cycles. The second challenge is that to build great solutions, we must understand the issues and challenges our users face. The culture of healthcare clinicians is very different from technologists, so building understanding and empathy between these two constituencies is an essential part of how we operate.

What are your plans for the Indian market?

Physician burnout is an epidemic and Suki’s mission is to lift the administrative burden from doctors, so they can focus on what matters – their patients. Especially during the pandemic, the work pressure on doctors and frontline workers has been massive in terms of maintaining records and treating a large influx of patients in a country like India where there is already a shortage of doctors as compared to the population. Suki aims to tackle this problem by helping doctors across geographies get rid of the burden of administrative work and increase their bandwidth to treat the patients.

In the next five years we are looking to hire the best talent globally (including India) and build a truly global platform. Using this rich repository of talent available in India, we at Suki want to build for the future of health systems and emerge as the torchbearer of the still nascent SaaS based healthcare technology space in the country.

Secondly, we’ll dramatically expand our user base of health systems and medical groups, advance the AI capabilities of our product, and add new features that streamline documentation, coding, billing, and other administrative tasks for clinicians. We believe India is poised to be a global leader in healthcare with the initiatives starting with the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission which intends to roll out a digital health record for each Indian citizen. Suki wants to a part of this digitisation of healthcare that is impending in the country.

Our goal is to help establish India as a global hub for solving the biggest and most complex healthcare challenges faced by the world. With world class mentors and industry professionals, we are looking for great tech talent who can learn and build at a global scale, which in return will encourage India’s tech talent to venture into healthcare technology as a space to build the best products.

Do you think the Indian healthcare industry is still recessive towards adoption of technology? What are your views on the scale of technology adoption in India as compared to the US?

The pandemic and adoption of technology in healthcare has brought a quantum shift in the sector in India and around the world. Digital transformation across industries due to the pandemic has opened tremendous opportunities of leveraging deep tech (AI, ML, Blockchain, etc.) to help the overall health tech ecosystem evolve. In India, internet penetration is higher and internet speed is probably faster than most developed countries. This is contributing to faster adoption of technology across all sectors, including healthcare. On the other hand, in the Indian healthcare system, adoption of the electronic medical record is low. Doctors commonly use paper charts, leading to time inefficiency and a missed opportunity in leveraging the value of healthcare data.

There are two trends that are starting to play out. One is that the government is becoming aware of the need to build a comprehensive, consistent healthcare ecosystem. The second is that the adoption of electronic medical records, and the need for consistent data is inherently going to start to happen in the healthcare tech ecosystem.

The demand for Suki is sky high in countries like the US, parts of Europe, Australia, Canada due to the need for innovative solutions in the health tech space. We can contend that in a couple of years, there will be a significant demand for Suki in places like India organically because of regulatory pressures and accelerated need to adopt technology by the users. India will leapfrog many developed markets in its adoption of a digital health stack.

What is the need of the hour as far as data protection and privacy is concerned?

Data, specifically structured data, are very important in today’s technology driven world and so is its privacy, safety and security. Suki has all of the certifications for security, privacy, etc. that one expects for a company that handles healthcare data. But at the end of the day, the act of privacy, and security is not just a technical act, but it’s also a cultural attitude, which means the entire company needs to understand that these are people’s lives that we are talking about.

The entire company needs to understand the importance of privacy and keeping this data safe, and permissions and processes must be implemented to ensure people only have access to what is minimally required to do their jobs.  Infrastructure needs to be established to mitigate risk from bad actors.  Finally, it’s important to be clear and transparent to the market about what data can and cannot be used for.

For example, Suki has made a commitment that no matter how much data we have access to, we are never going to use the data for anything except for making the core product better. We are not going to sell the data to pharma, we’re not going to sell the data to any other avenue where it can generate revenue, the only thing we will do with the data is to make Suki better. And the only job Suki will do is to make sure it can serve the doctor. So, when you put together these frameworks and commitments in place and lay emphasis upon culturally educating and changing the company so that you can handle data and privacy safely.

With the recent funding from March Capital, what are your expansion and growth plans for Suki?

We have recently raised Series C funding of $55 million, led by March Capital, with additional support from Philips Ventures, and all previous investors, including Venrock, Flare Capital, Breyer Capital, and inHealth Ventures. With this funding we are looking at expanding the India business in 2022, where we have hired top product talent in the country and started an offsite office so we can further touch the Indian market. We look at ourselves as an India and a US company, and more of a global company.

We will use this funding to make strategic investments that will lead to an expansion of its user base through new and existing partnerships with leading health systems and medical groups while bolstering employee growth and development. We also plan to advance the AI capabilities of Suki Assistant, its voice-enabled digital assistant, and Suki Speech Platform, its proprietary voice platform, and add new features that streamline documentation, coding, and other administrative tasks for physicians.

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