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Exclusive: ‘You’re going to believe a website basis what!’ : In conversation with Metropolis MD-CEO Ameera Shah

Publication: Businessinsider; Saikat Pyne
Posted on: April 21, 2016, 12.41 PM

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Metropolis Healthcare is one among the top 3 diagnostic chains in the country. It claims to deliver over 15 million tests a year and to serve over 10,000 Laboratories, Hospitals, Nursing homes and 2,00,000 Consultants.

It’s also the country’s only multinational chain of diagnostic centres with presence in UAE, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius and Ghana. It processes over 4500 varieties of tests and employs over 3500 people.

Business Insider sat down with current Managing Director and CEO Ameera Shah, to discuss the Indian healthcare space and the future of upcoming healthcare startups .

How’s India similar to other SE Asian markets you’re in?

All these markets have something in common – health insurance hasn’t penetrated here in a big way, so people are paying out of their pockets.

That changes the dynamics of the market. Doctors are more careful before prescribing tests, and patients are more careful of the pricing. Here patients become the decision-maker. That’s why convenience is of supreme importance.

We’re seeing double digit growth rate (10-13%) in emerging markets as compared to developed markets in Europe and America which see single digit growth.

Is affordability still the key factor in emerging markets?

Quality is the number one parameter, affordability comes next. The third one is convenience, and the fourth emerging factor is consumer experience. As education levels rise, people expect a level of hospitality.

Market Size for Diagnostics in India.

The market is currently $ 5-6 billion, and the top 3 players have managed to get only 10% of the total market. Over time we’ll see that changing.

In the US, 40% of the market is held by the top 3 players, and that’s because of health insurance penetration.

How do you strike a balance between the latest tech and still make it affordable?

In the western world people talk about how technology can help reduce cost. In India, manual labor is cheaper.

When it comes to the latest tech, we don’t compromise. However, if something doesn’t affect the quality of the report we choose manual.

Do you see healthcare startups being sucked into the mainstream anytime soon?

Startups are happening in two main areas – medical devices and mainly IT, with aggregators and the likes.

In medical devices there still hasn’t been a startup that has revolutionized laboratory methods. In the IT space, it’s primarily in the preventive space . That’s not working in a large way because in healthcare people go with a brand they trust, and they don’t want a new brand that’s coming out of nowhere. There’s some traction because of deep discounting, but how they’ll sustain in the long term is anybody’s guess.

So aggregators may not claim a big part of your business anytime soon?

Not at all.

The assumption is that once Practo and the likes make inroads into doctors’ clinics, they can tell the doctor where to send the patient for diagnostics. However, these are IT software companies, but the Doctor will send a patient to a hospital based on his medical knowledge.

What happens with services like these is that patients search for doctors like a directory of services. However, there’s no quality listing.

Patients still go by word of mouth versus a recommendation by an IT app.

Unless the quality listing comes into play, its difficult, and that raises a 2nd question – how will they determine what is a good doctor from a bad one. Doctors/Diagnostic chains can’t be rated by stars or quantifiable parameters.

How they’ll make these lists is a little bit of a question mark.

What kind of a startup can help you take a leap into the next stage of your expansion?

At this point, I don’t see a model. Rather, we can help startups.

They are absolutely new in healthcare, and they don’t have either the track record, or the brand value that doctors trust. There is an asymmetry in consumer education in India.

More work on consumer education might be helpful for brands like us.

Do you see the word-of-mouth recommendation model changing anytime soon for healthcare?

There are no alternatives.

You rather believe a distant niece, nephew or cousin who’s been to the clinic rather than a random website where you don’t know how they’ve done the listing. You’re going to believe a website basis what!

People don’t want to take chances with their health. That’s the biggest barrier for any new player, and also what protects the industry.

Any plans for an IPO?

I don’t see anything in the next 6 months.

Our industry is seeing great valuations in the public market, and as a company which has built a presence, it’s a very good opportunity for us if we do decide to go public.

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