A doctor’s journey to entrepreneurship
Hello, I am Dr. Ritika Sinha, co-founder of Rocket Health. I left my career as a doctor to build modern healthcare for India 🇮🇳 — healthcare that is patient-centric, comes without stigma and judgements; healthcare with a heart and soul.
I have grown up in a hospital (quite literally as my house is on top of one). I also come from a family of doctors: mom, dad, aunts, uncles, you get the deal.
From a young age, I remember having accompanied my parents to our hospital. I’ve witnessed a ton of cases and taken a good look at what goes on behind the curtains in the healthcare system. I remember once my dad had operated on an old lady who was suffering from tremendous pain due to a gall bladder stone. She was later shifted to the IPD for recovery. And while I was accompanying my dad on his hospital rounds, I saw that as soon as my father arrived at her bedside, she burst into tears, and went on praising him and thanking him for saving her life. I knew from that day on that helping people is my calling and decided that I want to be a doctor.
In 2014, I got into med school. MBBS was a pretty smooth ride, it had its own ups and downs, long hours of study, back-to-back examinations but I still had an amazing experience. I learnt a lot of fascinating things about the human body and got to assist in operations, which was always the dream. It was just extraordinary. Still, something seemed amiss. I did love studying medicine, yet I somehow couldn’t help but feel that being a doctor may not be my true calling.
After the final year of MBBS ends, we have an internship rotation around the hospital for one year. Now, during an internship, you learn a lot about yourself. It would tell you the field you are interested in, and the field you disliked and if you dive deeper than that, it could teach you what kind of a person you are.
During the internship, we learnt a lot about medicine but at the same time had to do a lot of grunt work like — bringing the reports from the lab, manually entering data etc. This experience made me see the gaps in healthcare. I felt healthcare in India was lagging behind and seemed to belong to a whole different era compared to the current technology. While we had all the latest healthcare machinery, the tech back-end seemed to be way behind. That’s where my inquisitiveness resurfaced. I started asking myself how one could make things easier and more seamless. I started reading up on health-tech platforms around the world. But as time went by and my internship came to an end, a more pressing matter came to light, the postgrad entrance examination. As I began to give my heart and soul to my preparation for the postgrad exam, my inquisitiveness took a back seat.
What sparked the idea
In April 2021, India was hit by an unexpected COVID second wave. Cases were rising at an alarming rate, and the burden on the healthcare system increased.
Our hospital saw a significant rise in COVID-positive cases. My doctor parents and I would receive numerous calls from patients and our acquaintances for all sorts of health-related questions. The strain on the healthcare system was evident. We wanted to extend help to more people across the country.
People who were not related to doctors had a difficult time consulting with one. As a result, they were falling victim to misinformation that was spreading on social media. I knew we had to act fast to ease the burden on hospitals and provide accessible COVID solutions. So, on April 28th, my brother Abhineet and I launched a teleconsultation platform named Rocket Health. We leveraged no-code tools and developed a prototype overnight. Our digital platform enabled patients to seek COVID consultations and advice. People could fill in their details on our website, and our doctor would contact them within minutes.
We had no specific direction at the time, or even an idea about the future of this initiative. We began with just 10 doctors from my network and quickly scaled to 120 doctors. In just 3 weeks we were able to facilitate almost 3000 digital health visits across India. Soon after the launch of our online portal, we received enormous support from the media, influencers, and our patients. Managing this COVID pilot had been an absolute dream for I got to witness so many distinct journeys and help so many people. It was a thrill and at the same time an inspiration. I used to work >14 hours a day in making processes but never felt tired.
The COVID pilot gave us a lot of insights — we realized that almost 97% of our patients were new to virtual care and almost 30% of them were facing mental health issues. This made us realize that it’s still day 1 for digital health in India.
While we do have existing health-tech platforms, clearly they are not enough. Most of the existing health-tech platforms are transactional in nature, some with the patients having to search for doctors akin to doctor shopping. Some with a focus on selling products to consumers than providing care. There was no seamless flow between tele-health and pharmacy.
From my experiences, I have seen that when it comes to mental health, people don’t want to be seen going to a psychiatrist and the concept of ‘therapy’ is almost non-existent in India. I had also noticed a lot of times that unmarried women face apprehension for seeking help for something as simple as accessing birth control or discussing sexual health and just don’t wish to consult with their mother’s gynaecologist because of the judgements they face. To cancel the stigma around mental and sexual healthcare, we really needed to make healthcare more seamless and cool. You know how easy it is to order food from an online platform? I felt healthcare should be as seamless and hassle-free as that.
These problems presented an opportunity for digital health 2.0 startups to provide a human-first, judgement-free healthcare platform that provides care and not just a prescription.
Seeing this, I just couldn’t sit back. I had to act. That’s when I took a leap of faith and along with my brother, Abhineet decided to take Rocket Health to the next step. Being a doctor and also coming from a family of doctors, I have been utterly obsessed with the idea of creating a better experience for patients. All these years of health-tech research came into the picture. We designed the website, built an MVP on Webflow and went live. From then to now, we have grown and are growing at a great speed. From a team of 2, we have now become a team of almost 30 people — people from healthcare, tech, business and marketing. We are really proud of the early foundations we are building. Since our launch, we’ve helped over 4000 patients and facilitated more than 100,000 minutes of care. From mental health, we have added on to cater to sexual health.
I got to learn a ton and I am still learning a lot. It is all about learning on the go and figuring out things by myself. From building a website to coding to learning about no-code platforms and making tech products from scratch to learning about growth, marketing and most importantly — people management. It was and is all new and super fun to me. I loved the thrill.
I must admit that this is not a smooth ride and is definitely not an easy way out. Taking this path means working 12–16 hours a day, and still lingering with the feeling that you could have done more. It means you have to play the role of just about everything- a leader, an assistant, a designer, somewhat of a techie, an intern and so on. People from different fields have entered health tech but don’t you think that the best people to build this would be us, doctors? If India has to brace against future pandemics, we need to embrace a new way of healthcare delivery, one where technology enables doctors to help build a patient-centric healthcare system. I am here to devote the next decade of my life to building a platform which should be ready for the post-pandemic world.
We are working towards assembling the best doctors, healthcare advisors and engineers to build the future of healthcare more patient-centric, seamless and accessible to all. In case you’re passionate about the same and would love to play a part in it, say hi to me on Twitter @docritsin. We would figure out a way to work together.