18 February 2015 13:51:44 IST

Healthmate for your family back home

OurHealthMate enables NRIs to register as members and book and pay for a slew of services

NRIs remit about $10 billion a year towards healthcare costs for their families in India. Often, family members divert such funds to other uses rather than attend to a health issue in time.

Manish and Natasha live in a sprawling house outside Seattle, in Washington, - the result of years of hard work and successful medical and accounting careers. Their children go to a private school, and the family enjoys a high social standing in the community. Life is good. But both of them worry about their parents in India.

Manish’s mother is 80 and lives alone in Kolkata. She is asthmatic and on medication but needs frequent medical attention. Natasha’s father, in Delhi, is a heart patient and needs regular tests and reviews with his cardiologist - a routine her aging mother can barely cope with.

With nuclear families the norm and home visits by doctors a rarity, non-resident Indians are often at a loss whom to turn to. For this couple, it was a relief when a friend told them about a healthcare service called OurHealthMate.

OurHealthMate, a web portal, enables NRIs to register as members and book and pay for a slew of services that can help parents and relatives back home deal with health problems. The company was started in early 2013 by Abhinav Krishna, who did his Bachelor’s in computer engineering from National University of Singapore, and Akash Kumar, also from NUS and with a PhD from TUe, Netherlands.

The idea occurred to Abhinav when his father fell ill in Lucknow and he had to spend several anxious hours in Singapore, managing hospital admission and payments on long-distance phone with his mother before he could travel to India.

Triggering point

NUS Enterprise, a National University of Singapore initiative, provided seed money and office space while the idea took shape and the founders pumped in some funds when they were testing the concept’s viability. An incubator in Singapore’s innovation hub, Block 71, the JFDI, also funded the venture. On the early years, Krishna says: “Start-ups are a lot of work in multiple areas – from finance to sales to operations. You should be able to juggle all these hats. Sustained passion is a prerequisite, as inevitably there will be more low points than high points. In my case, for the first 24 months, I didn’t get a salary, as all the money was invested into business development. During this phase, you need a few close friends around to support and motivate you, and you need to enjoy the small milestones.”

NRIs remit about $10 billion a year towards healthcare costs for their families in India. Often, family members divert such funds to other uses rather than attend to a health issue in time.

OurHealthMate restructures such remittances to channel funds directly to pay for healthcare packages for the beneficiary while guaranteeing regular, simple and secure feedback for the NRI payer from the physicians. Member hospitals are charged a small fee for this increased revenue.

“OHM allows users to choose from a wide range of health packages online and pay for them directly,” says Krishna. “Our USP is that we provide full transparency to the user about the services/range of tests and the costs before they book.” While the package costs range from $10 to $100 for preventive healthcare, the average booking is for $30, for check-ups every six months.

In just two years, the OHM network covers more than 300 Indian cities, with about 800 hospitals and clinics signed up.

Over 10,000 doctors are registered with the portal and the system currently carries about 35,000 individual packages. India is still an under-penetrated market for health insurance, though the segment is expanding, and projected to grow at 18-20 per cent a year.

Plans to up headcount

The OHM base is in Lucknow, from where 15 staffers, including developers dedicated to the portal, operate. The staff strength will go up by 50 before March.

On plans to extend the service within the country, Krishna says: “After NRIs, the next major market segment for us will be domestic remittances from children living and working away from their parents, in different parts of the country.”

OurHealthMate recently tied up with CXA, an Employee Benefit service provider in Singapore, with several corporations as clients. Through this partnership, employees of several Forbes 100 corporations can use their Flexi Benefits on the OHM portal. OHM renews the contract with CXA annually.

Investor value-add

Asked for his takeaways on successful multi-tasking, Akash says: “While a founder is busy with fundraising, he/she needs to make sure that business is increasing exponentially as well. Short-term targets and milestones are critical to prove credibility to the investors. That’s why a partner/co-founder is important; so that one person focuses on leading the business while the other is doing fund-raising. It’s also important to think how the investor can add value, besides providing cash. That is one most important things we focused on.”

And what does the venture fund think of the OHM model? Bimal Shah, CEO, Leo Tech Services Pte Ltd, that funds OHM, had this to say: “When Abhinav came to Leo Tech it was clear that he was the kind of start-up founder who would deliver this project and inspire the team to go the extra mile.”

Such faith is what has helped OHM raise S$850,000, the total investment to date. Says Shah: “Bringing our resources to support OHM in return for equity, made complete sense and OHM's success has validated this model of investing in companies with great ideas.”

An idea that, in this case, brought peace of mind to Manish and Natasha, who worry far less about their parents’ health.