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How Swasth app for COVID is becoming a rallying point for healthcare sector

COVID-19 has cost thousands of lives and battered economic activities, but in the health sector, it has united over 100 competing private service providers to form a non-profit consortium called Swasth.

Swasth provides free telemedicine consultation through a mobile app.

While there are dozens of mobile apps and toll-free numbers providing online consultation for COVID-19, Swasth is much more than a telemedicine app.

It opens up the entire healthcare value chain for patients. The app directs patients to various service providers – be it booking a test, buying medicines online, placing requests for homecare providers and searching for the nearest hospital and providing updates on bed availability. It also provides the phone numbers of these hospitals.

While consultation is free, the patient has to pay for the rest of the services.

For healthcare service providers, Swasth opens a new stream of business and capacity utilisation as the non-COVID business of hospitals and diagnostic labs has taken a hit due to low patient footfalls.

How does it work?
One can download Swasth for both Android and iOS platforms. After creating a user profile, users will be taken through a questionnaire that will help in finding out the presence and severity of COVID-19 symptoms, and call-backs from doctors are scheduled. The doctor then prescribes medicines and tests.

To begin with, the consultation service is available in Hindi, English and Gujarati. It will be expanded to 25 Indian languages.

So far, around 2,50,000 consultations have been done on Swasth app. The platform generates about 2,000 doctor-hours per day. Swasth pays a small fee to the doctor for each consultation.

Ensuring fairness
“The biggest challenge for the platform is to ensure fairness to the service providers who are part of the platform,” Gaurav Agarwal, Co-founder of 1mg and a key member of Swasth Technology and Product Council, told Moneycontrol.

The platform is built on open standards to enable interoperability. To ensure all members of the consortium get equal opportunity to service patients, Swasth has designed special allocation algorithms.

“We don’t want to be biased. We have designed a ‘Round Robin’ algorithm to allocate incoming calls among all providers fairly. All our partners can see our allocation algorithms. If there are five providers, each will get a turn once, and the loop repeats,” Agarwal said.

Swasth also separates the prescription and ordering process. For instance, a doctor only generates prescription. Where to order medicines or get tests done is left to the patient. The platform only generates the service provider options it has.

“Even here, we have ensured that every provider gets a fair visibility,” Agarwal added.

Swasth origin
The idea of Swasth took shape in March-April as technology and business leaders were grappling with a solution to COVID-19.

They realised the importance of collaboration, and over 150-odd volunteers from various organisations, companies and academic institutions joined hands. The work on Swasth began in mid-April and the beta version was released on May 3. The app was launched on June 24.

The governing council for the consortium includes Krish Gopalakrishnan, Axilor Ventures; Nachiket Mor, National Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Ranjan from Manipal Hospitals group, Shobhana Kamineni from Apollo Hospitals Group, Subrata Mitra of Accel, and Sharad Sharma from iSPIRT.

Swasth’s project team includes Cure.fit, 1mg, Practo, Call Health, Columbia Asia, Medanta, Policybazaar.com and x to 10x Technologies.

The platform has received a grant of $1.3 million from the ACT Grants, an umbrella platform of entrepreneurs and investors backing startups fighting the pandemic.

Health stack“There is a massive healthcare infrastructure in the country already, and an explosion of healthcare technology startups. Swasth wants to create a broad-based industry consortium to accelerate some of the COVID solutions,” said Agarwal.

Agarwal says that the initial focus of the coalition is to build a quick and effective telemedicine platform for COVID care, but it has much bigger plans, going forward.

Swasth will be adding other specialties like mental health as well to create a health stack.

“Over the medium and long term, the consortium will evolve into a National Health Stack as per the philosophy of National Digital Health Mission,” Agarwal added.

The National Health Stack will make both personal health records and service provider records available on cloud-based services.

It has been designed along the lines of India Stack, a cloud-based cashless service like digital payments that use application programme interfaces or APIs to transfer information through the system. – Moneycontrol