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TECH TALK: Care at your doorstep!

February 17, 2019

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CEO Hasan Nawaz Tahir, a public health professional, bets on the underserved market of nursing services to address Pakistan’s healthcare issues.
CEO Hasan Nawaz Tahir, a public health professional, bets on the underserved market of nursing services to address Pakistan’s healthcare issues.

The state of paramedical health in Pakistan is no secret to anyone, with almost everyone having experienced the lack of first aid services and trained staff in ambulances, dismal after care and what not. And this is exactly what a local startup is trying to address.

Health Rahbar is a Karachi-based startup offering general nursing services at your doorstep. From stroke after treatment to catheterisation and physiotherapy to day-care services, they cater to most of the paramedical needs.

Download the app, sign up using your number, email and password, list down the particulars — name, age and gender along with general health conditions and complaint history — of the patient in need and finally type in the address. Then, to book an appointment, you have to choose from nursing or lab tests, narrow down a category such as general nursing and the exact service required like IV administration or bed sore dressing, and select the time and date to make the reservation.

To register as a nurse, a Google form has to be filled in after which Health Rahbar does some basic screening and training. Currently, they have around 250 nurses on board, associated with Pakistan Nursing Council or other professional bodies.

The range of services offered is broad but Health Rahbar’s focus is still centred on general nursing services, which Hasan, one of the company’s three founders, feels is the first ground to cover before going all aggressive in other verticals such as antenatal care. So far, they just operate in Karachi, and want to test out the model here and then cash in on other cities and towns.

Health Rahbar was founded by a team of two techies, one doctor and a banker — Fashi Hansmukh, Omer Shoaib, Hasan Nawaz Tahir and Ghulam Mujtaba — in June 2018. Soon after, they joined the Nest I/O as part of its seventh cohort and are currently part of the accelerator programme at the National Incubation Centre, Karachi.

While they have an app and a website, the startup has just broken ground. In fact, the Android application was launched just a month ago and is still in its nascent stage with bugs being regularly fixed and updates are rolling out. Most of their bookings are actually done via phone call, which ironically put Health Rahbar in the same boat as the traditional players contracting nursing services through phone. So, what makes them different then?

“We are a fairly new startup, not even a year old yet, so the tech still needs some work but we’re are on it. As for the difference with the traditional players, we work on a flexible Uber-type model with per-service rates while they have their nurses on retainer, which is not the most scalable approach in the new economy,” Chief Executive Officer Tahir explains.

As for revenues, they have fixed charges for each category — such as Rs500 for dressing — and charge a flat 15 per cent cut to the nurses. The co-founders have funded the venture from their own pockets so far, but they are looking to get some monetary push through grants. “We are trying to score $50,000-$100,000 through grant money so we can set up our outreach centres, spend on nurse training and market ourselves,” says Tahir.

Health has lately become a rather attractive space in tech arena, with a few players already in the business for almost half a decade now. Ranging from online doctor booking to ordering medicines over the internet, these guys have more or less established themselves in the main business and are now entering other verticals. How would Health Rahbar — a much younger and still bootstrapped startup — compete with them? For Hasan, it’s simple science (and policy).

“Most of the startups are either working in online booking or consultations, usually with specialists on their panels, which are pretty expensive to begin with. Even there, it’s virtual at the end of the day. Our price points, in comparison, are much lower and you have a person coming to your house as well. And being a public health professional myself, I can point to numerous researches emphasising the need for nurses — and not doctors. In fact, the ratio of nurses to doctors in Pakistan is one to four, the opposite of what the World Health Organisation prescribes,” the CEO says.

Forget tech players as they are still trying to capture a market, hospitals too have ventured into this arena with major players like Aga Khan University already offering Home Health Services and more entering. But Hasan isn’t too concerned about the traditional players. “These conventional organisations are too comfortable with their positions so they don’t really have much incentive to innovate and shift to tech, except for a few disjointed efforts. Whereas for us, it’s our entire unique selling point,” he says.

The problems related to paramedical health are very real and Health Rahbar’s ambitions quite lofty. Let’s just see how many of them materialise!

The writer is member of staff:
m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com
Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2019