The pandemic highlighted the need for rapid progress in preventive healthcare in India. Healthians took on the challenge redefining accessibility to services and gradually helped transform the general attitude of the population.
The pandemic put all prior plans on hold and disrupted streamlined processes. At the same time it brought forth new opportunities and made businesses achieve resilience, not just on paper but in a real-life crisis. In an exclusive interview with DKODING Media; Deepak Sahni, Founder and CEO, Healthians talks about COVID-19 experience – how challenges faced, the new avenues it created, and how the crisis has made his company even healthier.
The Entrepreneurial Journey that led to the genesis of Healthians
My entrepreneurial journey began right after college as I started out with a computer venture. But, it was in 2003 that I found my niche – healthcare. I started out with a digital healthcare agency which gave me a chance to interact with myriad health professionals across the globe. I got the opportunity to experience firsthand the impact of technology on the sector and how it had enabled developed nations like the US to create healthcare systems that are so widely trusted by people.
The idea of starting a tech-enabled and customer-centric diagnostic service has its roots in my learnings from the previous business. In India, there is a marked difference between the healthcare services available and what the people need. India’s entire health ecosystem is based on a reactive approach, rather than a proactive one. All research, marketing and solutions were focused on the post disease phase, where the costs, efforts and stress were extremely high. Furthermore, the diagnostic space of the country is dominated by B2B players dependent upon franchises and doctors to reach customers. Similarly, with the growing incidence of non-communicable diseases, there is growing need for preventive healthcare.
All these reasons were indicators that there was a huge opportunity for us in creating a business that would deliver cost-effective, standardized and accurate diagnostic services across the country.
How Healthians is contributing to India’s fight against the pandemic
At Healthians, our belief has been to work towards making India a healthier nation and help every individual in working towards their health actively. The COVID pandemic brought with it an unprecedented aet of challenges as witnessed across the globe. During such times of crisis, it was essential that we extend our support to the government and the people.
- Healthians was one of the first private diagnostic services in the country that launched its COVID testing facilities in Gurugram through an innovative drive through (named ‘drive-thru’) sample collection method. This ensured safety for both customers and our employees by minimizing direct contact, thereby creating a highly efficient and hygienic process of sample collection.
- In a bid to further ramp up testing facilities and support the government in these times of crisis, we introduced a mobile sample collection facility. This again, was an innovation borne out of the need to service as many customers as possible in the safest method. Our mobile testing facility arrives at the nearest possible spot to a customer’s home. The sample is then collected by our phlebotomists from inside the van while the customers remain outside, thus minimizing contact. The van was sterilized after each sample collection and the phlebotomists would be wearing PPE at all times, further eliminating the risk of transmission.
Watch: Healthians’ drive-thru sample collection
- Healthians also launched COVID testing kiosks at many hospitals in multiple districts and cities including many areas that were designated ‘Red Zones’. This was an initiative that was meant to help hospitals by reducing the burden of patients and risk of exposure.
- Even after easing of lockdown norms, business as usual is not really an option for most companies as the risk still looms large. So, to combat this risk and help companies get back on their feet quickly, Healthians launched a product called the HPlus CorpShield which offers awareness and safety audit services to ensure that employees are made aware of risks and that companies can handle any risks in the workplace.
Watch: Healthians Corpshield service for Office Safety.
- In the early days of the pandemic, there was a lot of confusion among the population regarding its spread, impact and individual risk. This created a sense of panic and worry at large. To combat this, we launched a dedicated chatbot that acted as an expert on Coronavirus related issues and disseminated accurate information.
Watch: Healthians busts Coronavirus related myths.
Challenges faced and overcome to ensure continued services amid lockdowns
The lockdowns affected our business to a very large extent. With the fear of infection and transmission, people refrained from booking tests at home and exposing themselves. As a consequence, our bookings fell by almost 70% at the start of the lockdown.
Even though diagnostics were under the ‘necessary’ services umbrella, there were multiple logistical and operational challenges because of the strict restrictions in place. To ensure that our customers did not have to suffer, we had to adapt our operations to the new challenges. We created protocols and SOPs regarding sample collection and trained our phlebotomists to ensure the highest levels of safety. Moreover, we changed our logistical route so as to serve as many customers as possible. This also meant seeking special approvals and permissions from relevant authorities.
Watch: Healthians health test at home facility
Top three learnings picked up from the pandemic experience
Planning and adaptability – In the first couple of weeks, we faced a lot of disruptions. But we were able to adapt ourselves and our processes to new ways of working. With the pandemic, we have learnt how to keep ourselves supple and dynamic. After weathering this storm, I believe we are far stronger. We hadn’t been prepared for something like this but now we have a better grasp on what crisis means. This has helped us put proper business continuity plans in place to keep our business running in the worst of circumstances.
A good team is the greatest strength – I have always believed in the ‘happy employee means a happy customer’ ideology and this pandemic has strengthened my belief that having a strong team and maintaining a work environment where people are driven is essential for surviving any catastrophe. Since the early days, we have maintained a transparent and open communication line with our employees, apprising them of the situation and the challenges ahead of us, this has led to a more cohesive and motivated group which in turn led to bouncing back in a short span.
We have maintained a transparent and open communication line with our employees, apprising them of the situation and the challenges ahead.Deepak Sahni, Founder and CEO, Healthians
The importance of being optimistic – The worst of challenges bring the unlikeliest opportunities. The pandemic wiped off a huge chunk of our revenue. Nevertheless, it gave us the chance to look at new business streams like VDoc and new products like CorpShield, both of which are doing well and seem like bright prospects.
The crisis toppled every plan from before, but also brought about new ones
We had planned to expand our footprint to 50 cities in 2020 and double our customer base and lab count in that duration as well. The pandemic has put a temporary brake on these plans; however, we have been able to expand our product portfolio and verticals. So, it has not been a complete dampener either. The pandemic has also clearly highlighted the need for preventive healthcare in the country, both in terms of the services available and the general attitude of the population.
The pandemic has put a temporary brake on our 2020 expansion plans, but we have been able to expand our product portfolio and verticals.Deepak Sahni, Founder and CEO, Healthians
The Healthians model offered customers convenience, quality and trust – a highly adaptable model based on technology and a transparent system. We had expected that with the originally predicted growth spurt in preventive healthcare we would grow. Now, with this pandemic creating an urgency towards healthcare, preventive healthcare’s exponential growth in India is inevitable.