Aayush Bhagat had just completed his 6th semester of a software engineering course at the Indian Institute of Information Technology in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh in April 2020 when Covid-19 chased him back to his hometown of Biratnagar.
The pandemic was stretching Nepal’s small healthcare system to the limit, and given how difficult it was for people to access basic healthcare services, Bhagat thought technology could make their lives easier.
He wanted to develop an app that would offer doctor consultations, register outpatients online and make appointments with doctors and eliminate many of the problems patients face.
“Like everywhere else in the world, the Nepalese government has not been ready to fight the pandemic,” Bhagat told the Post. “With medtech apps already proven to be effective in many countries, including India, launching a similar mobile application in Nepal seemed like the right thing to do.”
Bhagat shared his idea with his friends. Rajat Agrawal, who studied MBBS at Birat Medical College, and Ashish Jaju, director of Asian Thai Foods, decided to team up with Bhagat.
They pooled the funds and recruited software engineers to develop the application. “It took about six months to create the Cura Health app,” Bhagat said. “Currently there are eight software engineers in the team.”
With the software in hand, the trio set out to find hospitals that would work with them. They went to the Birat Nursing Home in Biratnagar, where services had been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.
As in most hospitals, the outpatient department (OPD) of the Birat Nursing Home had to be closed. The hospitals were heavily burdened. People could not meet doctors.
Bhagat and his friends not only managed to convince the hospital to work together, but also found a new partner. Denis Karki, Vice Chairman of Birat Medical College, liked the idea of Cura Health so much that he decided to become a partner.
Cura Health was launched on November 11, 2020 in Biratnagar. Piyush Agrawal recently joined the team as a co-founder.
More than 50 hospitals and clinics in Biratnagar, Kathmandu, Itahari and Pokhara and more than 300 doctors from across the country are now connected to Cura Health.
“Doctors can choose to work with us individually or through hospitals and clinics,” Bhagat said.
Co-founder Rajat, who recently completed his MBBS, said he too will offer medical services through the app.
“The app provides real-time information on doctor availability,” says Bhagat. “An appointment can be made via the app.”
Cura Health also offers free and paid telemedicine, audio-video consultation with a doctor, and other services.
During the Covid restrictions the app provided free telemedicine services in partnership with the Morang Merchants Association and the Morang Chamber of Industry.
“Although we no longer work with these organizations, we have continued our free audio-video consultation services,” Bhagat said. “It doesn’t generate any revenue for us, but it does meet the needs of patients and generates a point of interest for them on our platform.”
While some doctors have agreed to offer telemedicine services through the app for free, others have asked for fees.
“We are burdening the hospitals, not the patients,” Bhagat said. “Hospitals will be billed for collaborating with Cura Health for OPD counseling on a subscription or commission basis.”
Cura Health has also been offering lab testing services for a year. More than 20 A and B labs across the country have been connected to the app to provide the services.
The app provides information about the closest available labs and the prices they charge for a specific test, and users can choose the best option for them.
Users can choose to have their samples collected at home or go to the labs. Payment can be made online or to the healthcare technician who visits the patients to collect the samples.
We explain to patients what is in the reports we send them via the app or to their email address. You can also get a free consultation from doctors via telemedicine and get a prescription for medication.
Cura Health plans to launch drug delivery services by March next year.
The app has more than 25,000 downloads from Google Play Store and App Store. According to Bhagat, around 10,000 users from across the country have used the app for telemedicine, doctor consultations and lab tests.
Laboratory tests are also carried out on a commission basis. Bhagat claims that lab testing fees on Cura Health do not exceed most labs’ fees.
“In fact, since we deliver the samples to the labs in bulk, the fees can be cheaper,” Bhagat said. “We don’t charge the patients, we charge the labs.”
According to Bhagat, one of their biggest challenges is convincing hospitals and patients to join their platform. “Another challenge is low-cost labs that provide low-quality services.”
Some government policies, especially in marketing, have also hampered the growth of startups like Cura Health.
“There are tax rules that discourage start-ups like us,” Bhagat said.
“The government is not considering a tax break or tax cut for start-up advertising,” says Bhagat. “The annual tax for putting up a notice board in a store with the shopkeeper’s permission is more than the cost of the board.”
Cura Health app users have also complained when it doesn’t meet their needs.
“We are one of the top-rated medical apps in the country,” said Bhagat. “Our rating on the Google Play Store and the App Store is 4.6 and 4.5 out of 5, respectively.”
Cura Health developers say they intend to make it a one-stop medical solution. “The last two years have been a great learning experience for us,” said Rajat. “So far we have been able to satisfy both segments of our customers – doctors and patients.”
Cura Health was recently named one of the 40 winners among 340 nominations from 72 countries at this year’s World Summit Awards, which select and encourage local digital innovations that bring improvements to society.
Cura Health was nominated by ICT of Nepal in the Health & Wellbeing category. It was also selected among the top five finalists in the start-up category for this year’s ICT Awards, which will be held in Kathmandu on December 23rd.