Clearly a big gap in the outside hospital healthcare space, says Ganesh

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Co-founder, CEO and managing director of Portea Medical, a fast growing home health care company, Bengaluru based Meena Ganesh is one of the India’s foremost business leaders. She is the co-promoter of nearly a dozen, new-age technology start-ups. An industry influence and a serial entrepreneur, Ganesh is an inspiration to business aspirants. In the interview with Team B&C, Ganesh talks of the key ingredients needed for a startup to succeed among other issues

What made you conceive of Portea?

In 2013, once I sold TutorVista to Pearson, I was looking at areas where I could build a business once again. Healthcare has always been close to my heart, and there was clearly a big gap in the outside hospital healthcare space. My own experience of taking care of my parents health needs, had shown me that before or after hospitalisation or caring for elderly was fraught with a lot of challenges in our country. Globally, outside of hospital care, including homecare is a key part of the ecosystem, in India this has been missing, or provided by extended family or the unorganised and unregulated sector.

Tell us something about the challenges you had to overcome in the beginning? How did you get the hospitals on board?

I spent the first 6 months of starting up, to meet hospitals, doctors and a number of other healthcare ecosystem members to understand their needs, concerns and expectations. Initially hospitals were concerned about quality of care, their patient experience and also whether we would in any way divert their patients elsewhere. Right at the start I invested in strong team of medical experts and experienced management. We put together strong technology and processes to ensure that the quality of people we hire, the quality of delivery and patient experience management . Getting the first hospital is the most difficult step, and it took more than 9 months after starting the company, that we managed to sign one. Thereafter our delivery track record started to build up and that helped in convincing other hospitals.

Was it more difficult to convince patients to come on board?

We launched our direct to consumer services along with our hospital engagement . We started in two cities using digital marketing to reach out to patients. A lot of focus was laid on execution quality , so that from day 1 we could build a referral base. Having hospital relationships was also helpful in giving confidence to our direct to consumer patient base. About 18 months on we started to carry out Above the line marketing activities and that helped in creating brand recognition across the country.

What were the advantages you offered the industry and the patients? 

Healthcare needs of patients are life long and may arise at the any point. Having a trusted provider like Portea, to help manage the healthcare needs of the family, at the convenience of your home, or through digital means is a very strong proposition. In many cases, there is critical need to have the solution at home. For instance, senior citizens, those with chronic diseases or people with critical illness e.g cancer or stroke, need a great deal of healthcare support at their home. While they could go to the clinic or hospital for some of the treatment, the healing and the long term health management needs to happen at home. So there is a huge gap in the healthcare system that we are able to fill.

For hospitals and other healthcare providers, we ensure that their patients are cared for post hospitalisation and the recovery process is being managed in the most appropriate way. In case of any escalation of symptoms etc, we are able to bring them back to the hospital for further care.

In a set-up like Portea, technology is the spine. How has technology helped you? How has  Portea technology evolved over the years?

We have always built the organisation for scale, for a large foot print, and the ability to deliver a number of different services and products based on people’s needs. We have also built in the capabitlity to acquire patients through multiple channels and service them through both digital and physical channels. We invested in an end to end ERP solution , completely home grown as we did not really find anything that met our requirements. Our platform manages the end to end journey of our patients, from acquisition, onboarding, to their day to day interaction, their medical and payment records. This platform also helps manage all our healthcare professionals and care givers, their schedules, their communication with patients, and all their data and transactions.

We have over the years evolved to add more long term view of patients, analytic capability, predictive capability and this has helped us quickly repurpose for any new opportunities and requirements. When the COVID pandemic hit us, we were able to quickly put our medical and tech expertise together to create a remote monitoring solution for home isolated COVID positive patients. This has been deployed by six states and more than 40000 patients have been monitored with great success, less than three per cent having to be hospitalised.

What was the range of services Portea offered in the beginning? Which are the services you have added moving forward? 

We started in 2013 with doctor and physio visits at home. Since then, based on the needs of patients, we have constantly evolved. Today, we offer solutions for primary care, chronic disease management ( e.g for diabetics), critical care ( e.g ICU at home, cancer care, neuro rehab) , post hospitalisation recovery, subscription based healthcare management for elders, new mother and baby care,  medical equipment for respiratory issues ( E.g ventilator, BiPAP, oxygen concentrator), hospital beds , mobility equipment , and also pharma delivery for therapies like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis etc.

Managing large number of COVID positive patients has helped us create a new offering for managing infectious diseases both remotely and at home.

Portea takes special care of patients from economically weaker sections. What is the mechanism by which you do it?

 We work extensively with senior citizens including those from economically weaker sections. We have been able to channelise the CSR contributions of a number of large corporates in ensuring the right care is provided to these neglected elderly in many cases, living in old age homes with minimal care.

Can you give us an idea of the rising graph of patient visits per month Portea has handled from the beginning till date?

We started the first patient around the end of calendar year 2013, so far we have served nearly 10 lakh patients across the country, we carry out nearly 150000 home visits every month, with an employee base of around 3500.

How has Portea succeeded in keeping the customers satisfied? What is its grievance redressal system?

Having well trained and motivated staff is the first step in ensuring delivery excellence. That apart, our customers have many channels to reach out to us in case of any concerns. Our customer service line works 24/7. We also have an email id which comes to me directly.

We do regular outreach to our patients to check their level of satisfaction with the services we are offering them.

Does Portea have any plans to scale up and diversify?

We continue to evolve and grow and find newer patient needs that we can satisfy. The best way to grow for us is to keep the patient at the center and understand how their needs are changing. We will continue to do this and keep growing the business year on year.

COVID has changed a lot in the healthcare space, families, especially elders don’t wish to step out and desire to get their requirements met at home. Insurance companies want to cover homecare, which they did not earlier. Companies want to spend more time and effort in managing the health of their employees. We need to see how to build ourselves to make the most of these tailwinds.

How do you think a start-up can succeed?

Some of the key ingredients are, a real problem being addressed, customers willing to pay for the solution, a product, service or solution which can deliver margins and scale, a good team with the right skills and experience, investor support. And to all of this you need to add a dollop of

luck too!

What are the secrets of success in life according to you?

Everyone has a different interpretation of success. For me, success is when the various elements are balanced, career and financial stability, strong family life, ability to contribute to the world around you in some positive way, mental equanimity to go through the ups and downs. This requires constant perseverance, ability to see yourself and continuous learning and striving.

How do you balance your business and family life?

For me work and life have always flowed,  each one takes the space they need. Having an extremely supportive spouse, children and family members has been the cornerstone of my ability to manage the various demands that work has had on me.

What are your views on women empowerment?    

Women hold up half the universe, they are capable and can contribute immensely to every sphere. It is important for companies, regulations and the environment to make it easier for women to reach their desired potential in whichever sphere they wish to excel. Equally, it is also important for women to make the effort and not give up their fight to excel.

A consumer healthcare startup

Established in 2013, Portea Medical operations are in 20 cities across India including Goa. The company is in the business of home healthcare to patients and offers the full range of geriatric, chronic, post-operative care as well as allied healthcare services. It offers home visits from doctors, nurses, nursing attendants, and physiotherapists together with other services.

Meena Ganesh is leading the charge as the company expands to 50 cities over the next two years. Prior to co-founding Portea Medical, Ganesh was the promoter of TutorVista, an online tutoring company that was acquired by Pearson, the world’s top education services company, for US $ 213 million in what was one of the largest deals in the Indian education sector.