From doctor to diagnostic centre to pharmacy to cashier and out of the building with a bulging file of test results, prescriptions and bills, visiting a hospital often feels like being stuck in a tumble-dry washing machine.
Even those healthcare providers who have computerised their work tend to rely on a patchwork system using paper and electronic records.
With improved internet connectivity in the country, the time may be right for Indian healthcare to shift to a paperless process that relies on artificial intelligence and cloud-computing, says J. Roland Manoj, who has spent over two years perfecting a new hospital information system called MedRo.
Dr. Manoj, who works as a junior resident in a private hospital in Tiruchi, had a very personal inspiration for designing MedRo. “My mother Dr. M. Abitha Grace is a gynaecologist in the C.S.I. Mission Hospital in Marthandam, Kanyakumari district. On average, she would be seeing at least 200 patients in a day. I’ve seen her agony, from the point of view of a doctor, of having to treat so many patients, and also the problems faced by patients, because of the long waiting time in the hospital,” says Dr. Manoj.
“If you are a physician serving in the community, you will actually feel the brunt of paper writing. Every doctor essentially writes out prescriptions twice, for his records and for the patient. Imagine the amount of writing that goes on – and then people say doctors’ handwriting is bad. What do you expect?”
What makes MedRo’s premise stand out in a sea of startups is not just the perspective that Dr. Manoj brings to it as a medical professional himself, but also the fact that it has already garnered attention from the tech industry.
Dr. Manoj’s company MedRollers (that he co-founded in Marthandam with his sister Rachel in 2015), was named among the top 10 Undiscovered Startups in India by the digital platform Indian CEO in October 2016.
From May 2 to 4 this year, Dr. Manoj will be showcasing MedRo at ‘Collision’, a well-regarded technology conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, as a special early-stage startup invitee.
“Five years ago, India didn’t have the Internet connectivity to make MedRo possible. But now, with the technology that we have in 2017, it’s become feasible. And unlike most start-ups, we have a finished product in our hands, which may make marketing easier,” says Dr. Manoj, who has worked to create patient and pharmacy management applications since 2003.
Need for innovation
Indian healthcare management has been adversely affected due to its reliance on proprietary software and a knowledge gap among users, says Dr. Manoj.
“I am not saying that doctors should mandatorily learn how to use a computer at work. Why should they? They’ve already spent a decade going through UG, PG, exit exams and stuff,” says Dr. Manoj. “In the MedRo system, the doctor comes empty-handed, treats the patient and leaves. The patient comes empty-handed, gets treated and collects the pouch of medicines after his visit. A receipt is printed only on request, so we keep paperwork to a minimum,” says Dr. Manoj, who has done the entire coding for the program.
MedRo’s software is based on Google Chrome. With a web interface that is user-specific, the software links the reception, physician, patient and pharmacy seamlessly. Where it scores over already existing systems, is in its usage of 18 back-up ‘cloud’ servers that keep all the information encrypted. A copy of each document is saved every second automatically. The software can be customised to outpatient and in-patient clinic modules.
Eventually, in the advanced version of MedRo, the patient’s test results will be transmitted directly to the system, says Dr. Manoj.
Dr. Manoj has ploughed most of his earnings as a doctor into developing MedRo and the company (known as ‘bootstrapping’ in tech industry jargon). But more importantly, he has used his medical experience to curate the features of the software.
“I started by writing out questions related to common problems in the current system. When my questions exceeded 900, I started looking for the answers, related to doctors, patients and nurses. Everything from medicine stocks to Intensive Care Unit procedures was taken into account,” says Dr. Manoj.
While a beta version of MedRo is currently being used in three institutions, Dr. Manoj feels MedRollers will need industry backing to make it as a full-fledged company. “I don’t have the manpower to handle the installation and oversee MedRo’s functioning. I want to get outside investments so that I can balance this and my career in medicine,” he says.
Dr. Roland Manoj began coding when he was in Class 2. “I started out with an Apple Macintosh in 1995 so you could say I am a bit biased towards it,” he smiles.
Besides being an emeritus user interface designer for Apple, Dr. Manoj has contributed to the development of the initial versions of the photo-editing software Adobe Photoshop.
Which brings us (often) to the question of whether technology will wean Dr. Manoj away from his chosen field. “I’m not going to leave medicine. That’s my base. That’s who I am. Computer coding something that I’ve learned over the years. So why not use both of them and try to do something good?” he replies.
“I feel MedRo and other systems like it will allow doctors to care for their patients without compromising on their time and effort, and more importantly, enhance their satisfaction of having helped someone.”