She is an award winning physician and a thought leader in science. Her brainchild, a company called ‘HealthCursor’ is what she calls a ‘medical improver’ in healthcare delivery and use tech to drive outcomes. Meet Ruchi Dass.
Currently, she is an Advisor to the Commonwealth Connects Program and is advising on a wide variety of projects to UN, WHO and World Bank. Dass is focussing her energies on improving public healthcare in India. Her received recognition by President of India as the BEST Healthcare ICT expert as he unveiled her extensive report on “Innovations in Healthcare”.
Ruchi speaks with Ria Das on bringing excellence and innovation in mobile communications in Healthcare.
Ruchi Dass, what was the motivation behind Health Cursor? How did you step into the world of innovative healthcare solutions.
After graduating from a medical college, I went on to study Public Health abroad. For 3 years I worked as a Public Health consultant in far flung areas like Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Egypt etc. During this time, I realised that there are several issues related to reach, accessibility, data capture, data synthesis, population surveillance etc. because of which it is nearly impossible to make any public health effort create optimum impact. There was a dire need to upgrade the public health initiatives with the help of newer strategies and technology.
Public health is credited with adding 25 years to the life expectancy of people across the world.
I studied Health Informatics to put forth a design of “technology enabled healthcare” and helped in making healthcare more affordable, timely, accessible and better. Before becoming an entrepreneur, I worked as the Vice President at Apollo Hospitals and got to learn about the nuances of the Indian healthcare market. The sole reason to start on my own was the belief that there is a lot that can be done to make healthcare better by deploying technology and by putting my consulting experience to practice. I wanted to innovate and bring in new methods of healthcare delivery, building efficiency and access.
What was the motivation behind changing in the delivery process of healthcare?
I was exhausted when I lost my father-in-law to brain tumour. He was a healthy and a happy man who was enthusiastic, loving, and full of energy even at 63. In India, what we called healthcare was not anything better than a mere doctor patient interaction. There was no continuum of care, no insurance, no preventative care, nothing. That reinforced my decision to make India my base and venture out on my own to fix these gaps.
Describe how Health Curson works and its future plans?
HealthCursor has leapfrogged in the last 7 years with more than 200 projects across 19 countries where our consultants, volunteers and fellows supported organisations like World Bank, WHO and UN in their e-health, mobile health and public health efforts.
Started in 2009 with a solo purpose to puzzle out opportunities in the field of affordable healthcare through the use of new ideas, technologies and processes. Recently, HealthCursor won the Best Practices and Innovations Working Group-on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. Our consulting group is now a member of HIMSS Innovation Committee and m-Health Alliance- the largest mHealth alliance in the world funded by United Nations.
It was hard to convince our consultants based in USA, UK to travel to these countries, hence we offered them a higher consulting rate squeezing our margins
The company intend to scale further and continue to work in its niche category for the coming years as well.
How did you manage funding for the base operations initially?
I was lucky to influence family and friends internally to arrange some money initially. We build a team of like-minded people and set up a small office. With the help of my professional connections, we tried to make inroads to a few large projects where we stayed focussed and delivered on time in spite of connectivity issues, electricity problems in far flung areas and little support. We took projects where nobody was willing to stay or work and that helped us secure our first 10 projects.
In 2004, I was one of the first volunteers to talk about use of mobile health in healthcare- today we have more than 1008 projects going on in a country like India
It was hard to convince our consultants based in USA, UK to travel to these countries, hence we offered them a higher consulting rate squeezing our margins. But to tackle this problem, we started a “Volunteer” program where students from MIT, Cornell and leading Medical and Engineering colleges participated and worked for us on a small stipend. Our internal pool of consultants grew to around 1200 and this was the time that we made up on our margins 2 years from then. This industry works on the word of mouth and hence though we were still small, it helped us win higher ticket size on-going contracts.
Challenging the old, systematic process of medical world with technology – it comes with perks and its pressures. What were the biggest challenges you’ve faced when you started off?
No steady pay check stress– In the first year I made around $17,000- this was pathetic money but I had to live on that money. Unlike product companies, services companies were more people dependent and less funded. It was a lot of stress initially, not getting a steady pay-check.
Hiring employees– Recruiting and retaining talent was most difficult. For similar salaries, people preferred an Infosys, TCS or Cognizant. We then worked around commission based models but realised that we shall not be able to outsmart market players. We developed a team of consultants/freelancers that worked with us on varied projects without committing themselves full time to us. We hired for attitude and not for mere skills.
Growing revenue and increasing profit– Now that we were not hiring the domain guys, we needed to focus on building business development teams to secure more contracts and become more profitable. As we were a niche Health informatics consulting company, we joined hands and partnered with consulting majors which were yet to invest and develop this practice. We saved on business development and marketing cost to start off with and sooner everyone started to recognise our work and we went on our own.
Also Read: 4 Indian women pioneers in medicine
You ‘proud of’ moments.
We live in a world where a single strain of polio if left, can affect the rest of the population. Public health is credited with adding 25 years to the life expectancy of people across the world. My greatest achievement is the “good will” that I have earned when someone got a health cover for $5, a prescription for $1 and a safe and free delivery after 9 months of conception. These achievements can’t be mapped by revenue figures or how many billion dollars’ worth of business one created. In 2004, I was one of the first volunteers to talk about use of mobile health in healthcare- today we have more than 1008 projects going on in a country like India and million more across the world. I can’t take credit of this revolution but I am happy I had some role in this.
What impact digital boom has on you and your company?
Technology has made us more aware, informed and brought us all together. It has helped gape the rural-urban divide and have provided opportunities to new businesses to build more access. The digital boom will help enhance technology with better infrastructure, more latency and bandwidth and local talent. It will help businesses like us to become more profitable and active in this market.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Never second guess yourself. There is enough market for everyone. If you stick to delivering value, money will follow. Focus is very important on every stage and opportunity; one has to prove oneself and stay balanced. Women should stay away from distractions in life, especially from comparison with men.