Shreyas Kulkarni

When Practo wants you to video call a doctor...

... And not resort to home remedies, or depend on the nearby chemist.

The Coronavirus pandemic has made all other health conditions feel inferior, or not that serious (in comparison). Go back to the last few months and think of a time when you felt under the weather. Did your mind jump straight to the Coronavirus symptoms list? Thought so.

Then there is the unavailability of doctors during the Coronavirus-induced lockdowns. Regardless of the situation, one just couldn't call up a clinic, or hospital, and fix an appointment with a doctor.

Even now, when we're in 'unlock' mode, not all doctors are available. So, one has to resort to either 'gharelu nuskhe' (home remedies), or ask the local chemist shop for medicine because it's the only way out.

Now, Bengaluru-based healthcare platform Practo, through its new ad campaign, has urged people to move beyond these habits and, instead, consult a doctor/specialist via a video call.

In the first of two ads, a family is seen discussing the grandmother's skin condition in hushed tones. The parents suggest a cream that's lying in the home, instead of stepping out to visit a doctor. Their daughter intervenes, "Since it's the matter of (my) grandmother’s health, shouldn’t we ask the experts?" She then goes on to suggest video calling a doctor on Practo.

The second ad features a mother-son duo. The mother tells her yoga teacher before the start of the online class about her son's stomach pains. When the teacher enquires about the treatment, the mother says that she's thinking of getting a medicine from the pharmacy. The teacher discourages her and tells her to video call a doctor on Practo, instead, and emphasises it's as easy as their online yoga classes.

It's interesting to note how far we've come. Back in February, we'd simply call a clinic, or hospital, book an appointment, and walk right in at the allotted time. Now, through a smartphone app, we video call a doctor and explain our symptoms. Video calling a doctor, as an act, isn't new, but for most Indians, it's a novel experience.

The same could be said for Practo. It was once a 'search discovery' platform for healthcare specialists that offered phone consults and bookings. Now, it allows you to video call doctors 24x7.

When afaqs! asked Siddhartha Nihalani, VP - products, Practo, about it, he said that Practo has been at it for years. He said that the platform integrated different parts of the patients’ healthcare journey so that they could have one seamless experience. Right from booking an appointment, consulting a doctor online, or in-person, getting a second opinion, reading other patients’ stories, to delivering medicines and lab tests at the patient’s doorstep.

Was getting doctors on board a challenge? Nihalani says that their willingness to partake in that journey has been admirable, as the country transitions towards a holistic digital healthcare ecosystem. “We helped thousands of doctors move their practice online since the COVID-19 outbreak so that they could continue to provide regular care for their patients. Identifying online consultations was the first part of call.”

Is there an overlap in Practo's user base? The pre-pandemic users, who'd phone a clinic, or hospital, for appointments, and the new users the healthcare platform has onboarded during the pandemic and lockdowns. Says Nihalani, “About two crore-plus patients visit Practo every month for their various health needs. Telemedicine on our platform has witnessed a growth of 600 per cent since March 1. We saw a lot of new consumers try telemedicine for the first time.”

While Practo is enjoying the fruits of its service, it also has competition. Not in the form of rival apps, but from hospitals and standalone clinics. According to Nihalani, many clinics and hospitals adopted telemedicine solutions for patients using Practo's platform when COVID-19 cases started rising.

“The goal really is to make the experience closest to an in-person consultation by enabling real-time interaction and ensure that patients have access to a verified doctor, at all times. ETAs are as little as 60 seconds. So, more players and competition, in general, are good for all. It gives customers more choice and expands access to care.”

An expert's view

We asked Sharda Agarwal, co-founder, Sepalika, a healthcare advisory, about how Practo’s latest campaign is trying to break long-held habits about doctor consultations. Not everyone is comfortable with video consultations and many associate a doctor's visit with some form of physical check-up.

Sharda Agarwal
Sharda Agarwal

Agarwal says that in India, the human connect and feel is critical. It’s ingrained in our cultural code. The need to feel the rice/dal/wheat at a kirana store before buying, or the need to have a doctor examine us physically before she/he writes a prescription.

“In this context, in a pre COVID world, the category of telemedicine would have faced a stiff challenge on acceptance,” says Agarwal, who’s also seen it with her online clinic at Sepalika. But, she's optimistic about telemedicine. “I won’t be surprised if the adoption rate surprises everyone around” as humans are good at adapting to a crisis.

Doctors, Agarwal says, will have to find ways to make their patient feel comfortable. She notes empathy and listening as key skills to make the patient feel understood.

When we asked her about hospitals and clinics posing a threat to Practo, Agarwal replied that she wouldn't see them as a major threat because Practo, after all, is a discovery platform. “Practo’s online presence is massive. It’s impossible for individual practitioners to get discovered without spending a fortune building a web presence. It’s like saying a shoe brand’s website is a competition to Amazon.”

The two ads

Spring Marketing Capital is behind the two ads and its co-founder Arun Iyer says, “These are simple and relatable slice of life films, which set the tone for Practo.”

Arun Iyer
Arun Iyer

What do you do when health issues, other than the Coronavirus, strike? It's not safe especially for the elderly and children to step out to visit the doctor during this time, and even doctors are being careful. In such cases, one invariably resorts to home remedies, or medications we've heard of in the past and we talk to local pharmacists. “That was the overall thinking (for the ads),” said Iyer.

Speaking about the story of the ads, he said, “This is a situation that the world hasn't seen before. So, we wanted to keep it as real and relatable as possible, and not vie for attention...” Iyer also said that they subtly cued (in the mother-son ad) that just as you can attend a yoga class online, you can also video call a doctor.

On the messaging, he had this to say, "Practo video consultation: the right call for your family."

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