Digital Healthcare has gained meaningful growth in Bangladesh over the last two years amid the coronavirus pandemic. The vertical was already on the rise, thanks to growing internet and technology penetration, the pandemic has accelerated the pace.
We have seen an influx of new healthtech startups scale their operation in the past two years. Amarlab, a digital healthcare startup that provides at-home diagnostic test services, online doctor consultation, a platform for doctors to run their practices digitally among several other solutions, is among the most prominent players in the vertical. The company started with on-demand at-home diagnostics services and has since expanded to several verticals, as we mentioned above, taking the advantage of the integrated nature of the healthcare service.
Amarlab has been in the most recent cohort of Accelerating Asia, a Singapore-based accelerator and startup fund, and is in the process of raising its pre-seed and seed investments. The company now aims higher and aspires to change the overall healthcare service in Bangladesh.
Tazin Shadid the Co-founder and CEO of AmarLab shares how the company came into being, what is Amarlab, services, and products it offers, how the company operates, the state of its business today, and ambition going forward, the healthcare sector in Bangladesh, challenges early-stage founders face, and much more.
So what was the driving force behind starting up AmarLab? This is what he had to say - "We have been working in the health care sector for around 15 years. In 2007, my mother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. I was working at Microsoft back then. My mother, Alhamdulillah, has miraculously survived. But those were difficult days. For the first time, I had a direct experience of going through the healthcare system in Bangladesh. Healthcare is a challenge in many countries in the world. While our healthcare system has its good sides, it is a broken system nonetheless. The experience with my mother's illness was the first inspiration for me to start working in the healthcare sector.
In 2007, I founded a clinic to provide free medical services such as consultation, tests, etc. Dr. Ishtique Zahid, my co-founder at Amarlab, was the first doctor to join our clinic. Within just 10 years, we had served more than 200,000 patients in our clinic.
In 2016, I returned to Bangladesh permanently. By that time, we learned a lot about the healthcare sector in Bangladesh. We realized that lack of innovation and creativity is a challenge in the sector. It is not that we need disruptive ideas to transform the sector, rather we need comprehensive basic solutions to address the basic problems around healthcare delivery and quality services.
We realized that healthcare is not a problem for underserved people alone, it is an equally uphill battle for affluent people. We realized the challenges in the sector can't be solved through charity work alone. We need robust initiatives to address these challenges and that is when we came up with the decision to start AmarLab to contribute to the healthcare sector in Bangladesh, along with building a digital platform for healthcare and making the customers life easier by enhancing a user-friendly process of healthcare services."
When asked how AmarLab is solving challenges of people in their day to day lives, Mr. Tazin said – "It takes around five and a half hours on average to do a diagnostic test. A patient has to go to the diagnostic center, wait for hours to do the test, and once done, they have to visit the diagnostic center again later to collect the test report. This entire process is not only time-consuming but also stressful for the patients and their relatives. AmarLab was founded as an innovative solution for this problem."
He further added that "There are several reasons why we choose to solve issues related to diagnostic tests first: many times, patients do not complete their required diagnostic tests after being prescribed by their doctors because of the hassle involved with doing a test. It is time-consuming, difficult, and for many patients, a challenge due to their age and physical condition. In the case of elderly patients, someone needs to accompany them while going for a test. Overall, the experience of doing diagnostic tests is not pleasant in most instances.
We thought we could design a service to address these challenges where patients can get this service at home. Since we ran a clinic, we had an understanding of how this works. But we decided to understand the realities and requirements of providing at-home diagnostic services. We spent almost a year in R&D to develop our sample toolkit, develop the processes and systems, develop the user experience, etc.AmarLab is currently working with all the prominent diagnostic centers such as Popular Diagnostic Center, Ibn Sina, Thyrocare, Dr Lal PathLabs, United Hospital, Islami Bank Hospitals etc. where patients can choose from which center, they want to get the tests done"
AmarLab has a pretty steady growth. Their month-to-month growth is around 140%. Especially when COVID hit last year. People were searching for safer solution to do all the pathological tests maintaining minimum contact and maximum safety, and this is a major factor of their operational growth as AmarLab caters to this particular need of its customers.
Talking about the vision for AmarLab, Mr. Tazin said – "We want to provide people healthcare service at their homes, within their comfort zone. From running a clinic, we have learned that the majority of healthcare services can be delivered at home with the proper equipment and preparation. Our vision is to make healthcare accessible to everyone everywhere in Bangladesh."
Moving towards achieving their goal, AmarLab has recently started its Journey in the second largest city of the country, Chittagong. Now people in Chittagong can avail this service and get their pathological tests done in the comfort zone of their homes.