Pakistan, Patriarchy, Pandemic, and Prize: Live Session with Sehat Kahani [PART 1]
What You Missed at the Live Session of Sehat Kahani Exclusively with Startup.pk
These are the 4 challenging “Ps” for any women-led startup founder. Individually, they may be not be scary, however, together, they can prove to be the worst nightmare even on the “Elm Street”. The boss women behind Sehat Kahani are shattering the glass ceiling, one “P” at a time.
With over approximately 77% of female doctors not joining the workforce due to societal restrictions, their medical degrees only serve as an added accolade in the potential marriage candidacy.
A quality cost effective product that is used abroad as well.
Last week, we hosted a live Zoom and Facebook session with the power women behind Sehat Kahani: Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga and Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram. We gathered our online startup.pk tribe community of 19,000+ members, including national and international members to connect and meet the doctors-cum-entrepreneurs behind the health tech startup, Sehat Kahani. We had a 1-hour productive discussion on different aspects of Sehat Kahani and telemedicine in Pakistan. We touched topics ranging from personal lives to professional careers, from team building to mentorship, and from business model and product market fit to diving into the technology business. Here are the key takeaways from the live session.
Rolex Award, Sehat Kahani, and Telemedicine
When Karachi meets Lahore: Dr. Iffat and Dr. Sara
Many mentors advise you to start a business with people you don’t really know or have personal relationship with however, the spirit and passion for the vision should have similar warmth. But the Sehat Kahani founders went a step further and as fate would have it, they connected despite being cities apart. Dr. Iffat, a doctor working in the pharma industry in Karachi met Dr. Sara, a doctor in Lahore and began their journey of a telemedicine startup in Pakistan in 2017.
“I believe that if we had individually founded Sehat Kahani, we wouldn’t have been able to take it this far. While in the second year of our company, Iffat and I were both pregnant together, and were expecting a child with 2 months difference. So, the only way we could take the pregnancy along was that we could understand exactly what each other was going through. This is very important that your co-founder understands you as a person so that you can work professionally.” – Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram (CEO & Founder, Sehat Kahani)
Interestingly, being married female doctors with 2 children each, is not the only thing that connected them but it was their ambition to make health accessible to all, the belief in the elimination of the “doctor bride phenomenon”, and crushing the “quack” culture in Pakistani health sector.
“We lived in 2 very different circles but somehow our life circumstances were very similar. As we both were young mothers, were struggling and trying to juggle careers and family and trying to manage this all. So, because of that we had a good bonding, and this is what I like a lot that we started professionally working together but we eventually became very good friends. Due to which we can very easily and effectively balance work-life between each other.” –Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga (COO & Co-founder, Sehat Kahani)
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Sehat Kahani: Vision, Mission, and Passion.
Sehat Kahani is the fruit of their hard labour of trying to drill a hole in the faulty health care system in Pakistan and injecting the use of technology to bring telemedicine to the masses. During the discussion, they highlighted the health care system as a big problem yet an incredible opportunity in the country.
Having experienced the “doctor bride” phenomenon for a short period in their lives, they had a personal realization of the mental and emotional strain that a female doctor undergoes. The problems are interconnected as a large workforce does not work so health care does not reach the people especially in the underprivileged areas, hence, people have less doctors to consult to.
- A large medical workforce is made up of female doctors. But there is a very small number of those female doctors that work after getting married or getting an education. This is a fact that only 23% of female doctors work after marriage or graduation.
- A population of 200 million and the 5th largest population in the world, unfortunately half of us cannot consult a doctor. Their only access to health care is through a nurse, a quack, or a mid-wife. And of-course women and children are the most un-advantaged in this.
- Health is everyone’s problem in Pakistan.
“Since, we both could not work for a short period of time in our lives, we both had an up and personal realization that what kind of mental emotion strains go through a female doctor’s head when she is unable to work OR when she has to make a crucial decision between her work and family. This is why we feel connected to this problem.” – Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram (CEO & Founder, Sehat Kahani)
Standing at the cross-roads of life, and choosing between a career and family, the two doctors found their calling in the telemedicine sector. Nevertheless, after identifying the problems, they were quick to realize that every cloud has a silver lining and with all these problems, the greatest opportunity lies in technology. So, the 85 million smart phone users who use internet on a daily basis and a generation that uses smartphones for everything is going to shape the health care problem in Pakistan.
An audio-visual platform that connects a female doctor sitting at home to a patient in a far-flung area through technology.
Thus, Sehat Kahani was born!
First Ever Female Pakistani Recipient of The Elevate Prize 2020
Nonetheless, they have come a long way, by not only accomplishing their goals and winning accolades nationwide, but also have represented Pakistan on global platforms such as, The Elevate Prize and the Rolex Awards, as women entrepreneurs in tech-health sector.
Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga (COO & Co-founder, Sehat Kahani):
“We felt proud that very few women in Pakistan get the opportunity to represent Pakistan globally. So, there was a lot of excitement in representing Pakistan on such a prestigious platform. And being able to share with people that these are things happening in Pakistan on a global platform is something very exciting and crucial to build a global perspective, that ultimately Pakistan is being evolved on the whole, not just in terms of education or access to technology but also, in terms of female empowerment. So, it was a very happy moment that through Sehat Kahani, Dr. Sara and I were able to contribute to the area of female empowerment.”
Quality over Quacks
With any great vision comes great responsibility to ensure quality and value. Dr. Iffat and Dr. Sara explained in detail how they ensure quality of the doctors and the service they provide through their technology platforms.
“We actually realized that how much difference is made in a patient’s life when they talk to a doctor as compared to when they talk to a quack.” -Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram (CEO & Founder, Sehat Kahani)
They started their journey from low income areas and built telemedicine clinics that were run by properly vetted nurses. These nurses took the history of the patients and examined them while simultaneously updating the data in a software and connecting the patient for an online consultation with a doctor to get treated. After the consultation, the patient gets the prescription alongside other value-added services such as, lab tests, ultrasounds, etc. from the clinics too. Starting with 8 clinics in 2017 to 27 clinics in 2020, Sehat Kahani has come a long way.
The mobile application is downloadable by anyone and connects you with a doctor in 60 seconds, and 24/7 round the clock. This application is also provided to corporate organizations for their employees’ health care as well. Being one of the most cost effective and efficient way in connecting doctors to patients, Sehat Kahani is a game changer in the Pakistani health sector.
Recruitment and Screening:
A major chunk of quality process lies in the hiring process and building a strong team. In order to achieve that, one must have a robust recruitment policy and screening process.
Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga (COO & Co-founder, Sehat Kahani):
“Quality begins from the end of the kind of doctors that you recruit. And it continues to the quality of how the technology works, and through the point of every consultation that takes place. So, quality has a big importance for any telemedicine-based company. So, when we hire any doctor, we have a very strict criteria, we have a PMDC validation, without which any doctor cannot become a part of our network, and when we have any doctor on-board, we make sure that they have a minimum 3 years of experience and/or should not be out of the workforce for more than 3 years. There are a lot of female doctors that may not be working but because of the amount of quality, we cannot engage everyone, unfortunately.”
Read [Part 2] for more on Team building, Training and Technology with Sehat Kahani.
Team building and hiring process also involves skill building and providing the right resources to the team. Hence, training and workshops is crucial in ensuring quality and smooth processing of the application.
Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga (COO & Co-founder, Sehat Kahani):
“Once, we have assessed the criteria, we screen the doctors and then teach them a Learning Management System [LMS], for which they have to go through the course modules before they go live on the app or the clinic. Once, they go through this, they have a proper quiz and they have to perform better than a certain score, and if so then they are recruited. Otherwise, they stay part of the network and go through training. Then we have the internal audit and quality assurance team so that we constantly check the data of clinics and app. Then technology has its own quality assurance team that we are managing like how much can the tech handle stress, how many people can log into the system at the same time, etc. It is very important to see that when a patient is being treated through telemedicine technology, the way the doctor talks, or the patient consults and is being treated in time is a big factor. The doctor builds report with the patient and that really is a big thing. So, these things have made us successful.”
Emergency and Urgency
Since, telemedicine is only for the primary health-care issues, Sehat Kahani has developed 3 systems to ensure proper patient treatment and health care for these levels: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. For primary and secondary health care, they have basic value-laden services at their clinics and consultations with the doctors. For tertiary health care, which is the need for being hospitalised, they effectively train their doctors to identify such cases and then refer them to the nearest tertiary health care facility or hospital with an e-referral letter by their doctors. Sometimes, when technology is down or the app is not working, then the patients can use the helpline and still be connected with the doctor.
If for some reason, the doctors cannot take up a call within 60 seconds of response time or the call drops or there is a cancellation, then Sehat Kahani call centres make a feedback call and schedules an alternative consultation.
“Which is a big unique selling point because people know that there is someone who knew that our call didn’t go through so, now they are asking us about an alternative and are offering a consultation now.”–Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga (COO & Co-founder, Sehat Kahani)
What is next for Sehat Kahani?
Introducing a product to a community that is new to the concept is a daring task, especially when it is telemedicine and brought to you by female entrepreneurs. Sehat Kahani is on to the next phase of its working, ensuring that it is a best product market fit for the community. Moreover, convincing people to buy the product and/or use the service is equally important for the product to survive in the long run irrespective of it being cost-effective.
“Technology is the only thing that will take us forward. We realized it now, people will realize it in the next 5 years.”- Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga (COO & Co-founder, Sehat Kahani)
Dr. Sara Saeed and Dr. Iffat Zafar are now planning for the next 2 years to be fruitful and productive for telemedicine in the targeted communities by expanding telemedicine clinics in Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan, and Azaad Kashmir too.
Long term Plan:
Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram (CEO & Founder, Sehat Kahani):
“A solution that a low-income area person also has access to the health care and have the app in every smart phone. Any nurse that is going door to door can connect to a doctor and any opportunity that we can create to connect to a doctor- we will do it. To licence this app to areas abroad/outside Pakistan that has no access to health care.”