Indian healthtech startup Phable raises $12 million to serve patients with chronic conditions

Phable, a three-year-old healthtech startup that is serving patients with chronic illnesses in India, has raised $12 million in a new financing round as it looks to scale in the world’s second most populated nation.

Manipal Hospitals, one of the largest healthcare providers in India, led the Series A round in Phable. Existing investor New Jersey-headquartered SOSV also participated in the round.

Hundreds of millions of people in India suffer from chronic diseases. One of the biggest challenges they face is the volume of transactions they have to manage each day. There are appointments with doctors and labs for tests, purchasing of medicines, medical devices and insurance, and keeping a log of their test results.

The Bangalore-based startup has built a full-stack solution to process all these transactions. It has also developed what it claims to be the world’s largest integration with medical IoT devices.

The purpose of this is to automatically collect patients’ data so that doctors can keep a better track of their progress. The app also enables patients to share what medicine they are taking, and the frequency of the intake.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Phable co-founder Sumit Sinha explained that patients often become less disciplined about taking full dose of their medication once they start to see improvements in their conditions.

Phable has created a more transparent and real-time communication channel that allows a doctor to nudge their patients to take their medicine on time, and make any necessary changes to the lifestyle or medication cycle, or request a follow-up appointment. The app itself can be used for tele-consultation, the demand for which has skyrocketed in recent quarters as coronavirus forced people to stay indoors.

“This creates a feedback loop between the patient and the doctor even when the patient is not at the clinic or hospital and enables active interventions to get the best outcome,” he said.

Image: Phable

The startup also sells a range of medical IoT devices through its platform that patients can buy for tracking their body performance such as blood pressure and glucose levels. Sinha said that even if a patient has bought a machine from some other place, Phable’s app is compatible with most devices. (Even if it is not — as is sometimes the case with low-cost, non-branded devices — patients can manually enter their result, or take a picture of the result and through computer vision, Phable is able to understand and make a record of it.)

“The growing burden of chronic diseases in India is exacerbated by issues around compliance of patients with the treatment regime – including medication, lifestyle changes and periodic follow-ups. Phable would help to fill that gap and would enhance the quality of life for many patients. Manipal Hospitals is pleased to have this opportunity to work with the team at Phable to enhance and grow their offerings,” said Dr. Ranjan Pai, Chairman of Manipal Education and Medical Group, in a statement.

Phable, which employs 72 people, also maintains partnership with 1mg and Medlife to make it easier for patients to place orders for their medicines and get them delivered at their doorstep.

In recent quarters, millions of Indians have consulted with their doctors through their phone or computer and bought medication online for the first time. According to Frost & Sullivan, e-pharmacy market in India was estimated to be around $512 million in 2018. In a recent note to clients, analysts at Bank of America estimated this market to be worth $2.4 billion by 2022. (The preventive healthcare market, which caters to physical and mental well-being, is expected to grow to $102 billion by 2022.)

Phable today serves patients with cardiovascular and endocrinology related chronic diseases. It has already served over 220,000 patients and plans to deploy the fresh capital to scale the startup to reach 5 million patients and 35,000 doctors by the end of the year. It also plans to broaden its offering, including allowing patients to purchase insurance from within the app or website.

Currently Phable is used by over 5,000 doctors. These doctors are using the platform to stay better connected with their existing patients and are not being paid by Phable. The startup, however, also enables patients to discover more doctors. All in all, Sinha said doctors have seen their revenue grow by 20% by using Phable’s platform.

“Phable started with an uncompromising vision of connected healthcare, reimagined through leading-edge technology, and has been unrelenting in their efforts since day one. It’s been our privilege to work with the team through our accelerator MOX and to further support Phable as they go on to better millions of lives in India,” said William Bao Bean, General Partner at SOSV, in a statement.

Related Articles

A startup that raised $175 million to fix primary and urgent care is still struggling with what its CEO called the 'most complex' problem in healthcare

Summary List PlacementSome of healthcare’s problems are so complex that even the most well-funded startups struggle to fix them.
Carbon Health cofounder and CEO Eren Bali found out as much as his company tried to make prices for doctor’s visits, routine procedures like blood tests, and comparative prices for diagnostic tools like MRIs and x-rays transparent for patients, a feat that sounded simple at first but quickly ballooned into a much larger, systemic problem.
In a Twitter thread posted on December 27, Bali ran through the challenges he and his team had identified in trying to create a menu of sorts for different procedures and treatments for Carbon Health patients.
In the end, he ultimately said the fix lies with insurance companies — not healthcare providers — to fix the way patients and clinics are expected to pay for healthcare in the United States.
“The problem is on the payer side,” Bali told Business Insider. “The payer systems are old and antiquated, and that’s opaque to providers. We are doing all we can on the provider side.”
Read more: $1.5 billion digital-health startup Ro wants to be your online doctor. Here’s how its coronavirus response rooted in rapid at-home testing fits into the new unicorn’s long-term strategy.
Calculating prices ahead of visits proved difficult
Carbon Health serves a wide variety of patients with its urgent and primary care services. It offers booking through an app, and also added virtual visits to any patient seeking care but hesitant or unable to go into one of its physical clinics.
Ideally, Bali said, Carbon would be able to show patients the costs of these services upfront so that the doctor and patient can decide on the best course of treatment together, but hasn’t made as much progress as he would like.
Some relatively new healthcare entrants like Walmart have similar ambitions in making shopping for healthcare just as easy as shopping for groceries. Patients can find Walmart’s cash prices online, such as a primary care visit that costs $40.
Carbon Health has developed a system that works well for patients without insurance, Bali said, because pricing is more straightforward. It created a data analysis tool that looks at different inputs such as existing conditions, Carbon’s cost of service, and other factors to provide an up-front cost to uninsured patients, Bali said. For example, Carbon charges uninsured patients $195 for a primary care sick visit and $69 for a virtual visit, according to its website.
But it was when that same system was trained for patients with insurance that things started to unravel, Bali said. The calculated costs for patients with similar backgrounds, insurance plans, and symptoms only matched 40% of the time, Bali said.
“We can’t explain the difference,” Bali said.
Insurance companies are built on out-dated systems
Part of the variance can be explained by how complex insurance plans are, Bali said. Each plan is essentially unique to the individual that has it, and coverage can range widely even among similar plans offered by the same insurance company.
That’s not something that even the most sophisticated data analytics model can fix, Bali explained. If healthcare providers like Carbon want to tell patients how much they can expect to pay for a visit and associated procedures, insurance companies need to update how they bill both patients and providers.
“It’s driven around the inadequate system,” Angela Miles, head of revenue cycle at Carbon Health, told Business Insider. “We need to rebuild that from a payer standpoint to get to a more modern standpoint.”
More complexity leads to increased costs
Startups like Oscar Health are already attempting to bring insurance companies into a more modern model, Bali said, but larger companies have yet to shift in a meaningful way.
Those that do change, albeit in a more superficial way, actually make the problem worse by making it even more complicated, Bali said, because the added complexity adds time, which adds costs.
“A lot of work that goes towards decreasing healthcare costs is making the system more complicated,” Bali said. “My theory is that things that drive increased cost in healthcare is due to increasing complexity because you can’t be transparent and compete on price.”SEE ALSO: The founder of a healthcare venture fund that just raised $200 million shares why she wants to back founders that are building businesses for their communities
Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Warren Buffett lives in a modest house that’s worth .001% of his total wealth

How AI could transform post-pandemic healthcare

Summary List PlacementThe toll on medical professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic has been huge. In the UK, nearly 100,000 members of the National Health Service (NHS) workforce are currently off sick – around one in 10 employees. Half of those are absent because they are sick themselves, or have been forced to self-isolate because of their proximity to someone with COVID-19.
The absences are stretching healthcare provision in the country to its limits. But it’s not just frontline doctors and nurses who are struggling to keep going due to illness. Human labor has been pushed and pulled due to the pandemic in pharmacies and laboratories processing tests and coming up with new drugs. It’s something Joanna Shields, the CEO of BenevolentAI, an artificial intelligence-powered drug discovery startup, has been working on.
“The coronavirus pandemic reinforced how human intelligence partnered with purposeful technology can achieve inspirational results, even when the world is locked down,” she told Insider. “While AI models and algorithms will never fully replace scientists and clinicians, they can save time and money — which is crucial in our current climate.”
In the early days of the pandemic, BenevolentAI set its technology to work on the pandemic, trying to come up with treatments that could help alleviate pressure on medical systems. “Our AI models ingest scientific literature at scale, deriving contextual relationships between genes, diseases, drugs, and biological pathways leading to the proposal of novel or optimal drug targets and mechanisms, as well as the identification of the patients who will respond to treatment,” Shields said. “Such relationships may be completely new, previously or previously unrecognized due to the overwhelming volume of biomedical information that is now available.”
One solution they hit upon by combing through the literature was the use of one drug, barcitinib from Eli Lilly, that could help treat COVID patients. A November 2020 paper published in Science Advances by frontline doctors who took the signals from the machine learning trawl through literature and decided to test it on patients through the National Centre for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the US reported positive results. The drug, identified by BenevolentAI, contributed to a 71% reduction in mortality in patients with moderate to severe COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US used those results to grant it emergency use authorization on a wider scale, and it’s been used in hospitals there since the end of 2020. In the UK, barcitinib is currently undergoing tests as part of the UK Recovery Trial, where patients recuperating from COVID-19 are being given various drugs to see how best to treat future ill patients.
Quick action like this could transform post-pandemic healthcare, Shields thinks. “Experiencing a global health crisis on this scale, we have never been more aware of the fragility of human life,” she said. “One positive outcome of COVID-19 is that it has united science and tech for good, accelerating data-sharing agreements and encouraging the open publication of research results. This new environment of collaboration has provided a glimpse of the beginnings of a more open and adaptable R&D model that can accelerate the delivery of innovative and life-changing outcomes for patients.”
It’s also having an impact on those being drawn to participate and collaborate on finding solutions for healthcare problems that are blighting the world. In a trying time, Shields believes pharma- and med-tech have stepped up – and that success could draw more people into the field who can help cause future leaps forward. “We have also seen a significant increase in tech talent being drawn to healthcare or pharmaceuticals, driven by a desire to solve real-world problems and improve quality of life,” she said. “I believe that this passion and intelligence, partnered with new technologies, will propel us forward and bring new discoveries, new cures, and new hope to patients.”
It’s one that’s proven more necessary than ever before — and while AI has come under its fair share of criticism, there’s real hope, based on its use in this pandemic, that it could be harnessed for good by the time the next pandemic comes.SEE ALSO: Vaccine experts report that the rapid progress on COVID-19 trials is a result of unprecedented global cooperation and focus
SEE ALSO: The coronavirus pandemic disrupted clinical trials. A top ALS researcher explains how that helps the work she’s doing.
Join the conversation about this story »

Responses

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Get notified about chronicles from TreatMyBrand directly in your inbox