Big Idea

Prescription written in sloppy handwriting? This start-up offers an antidote

Equipping doctors with digital tools, Farmako aims to build India’s first centralised health record system

Doctors across the world are notorious for their illegible writing, or their chicken scratch. While this makes for hilarious memes, the tragic fallout is deaths of thousands of patients, from being administered the wrong medicine. To doctors, improving penmanship is the least of their concerns. Flooded with an increasing volume of patients every single day, the frontline workers have to get on with their jobs swiftly and effectively. Here is where digital tools built by Farmako come in.

Founded by Aman Bhandula and Kaishu Sahu, two friends from IIT Roorkee, Farmako is a centralised EMR (Electronic Medical Records) app for doctors and clinics. The idea came to Bhandula in 2018, when he was at a doctor consultation, after having injured his shoulder playing squash. “The doctor didn't ask me anything about my medical history. When I took the initiative and informed him about my previous injury, he immediately changed the prescription,” recalls Bhandula. That day, in that clinic, he realised the need for an EMR app, where doctors could write digital prescriptions and can access the digital medical records of patients.

“They (doctors) are non-tech savvy people, and using software slows them down. Thus, most of the doctors in India still write prescriptions on paper,” says Bhandula. After speaking to hundreds of doctors and testing some existing apps, the duo, with backgrounds in machine learning and Android development, realised that they could make a faster EMR app, which could solve all problems. Thus, Farmako came into being in December 2019.

Using the app, doctors can write prescriptions as fast as they write on paper, with the help of a voice assistant that is trained for Indian accents. All they have to do is download the app and put in basic details such as contact number, name, city, field of specialisation and their unique medical registration number. It takes the Farmako team less than 24 hours to complete the verification process, cross-check with the Indian Medical Association (IMA) database, and on-board the doctor.

To avail the services, a doctor has to shell out $50 per month. Now, many would like to maintain status quo and not spend extra money on an app, but Farmako’s value proposition lies in the branding it provides to the doctors and clinics. “Doctors spend lakhs every month on marketing via conventional channels such as hoardings, banners and pamphlets. We market them through our digital channels and give them more reach to the relevant people,” says Bhandula. Simply put, by listing the doctors on the app, Farmako provides them greater visibility among patients.

Here is where the start-up’s patient-facing interface comes in. Going hand in hand, if a doctor has to write a digital prescription for a patient, the patient should also be using the app to keep all of his/her health records in one place. So, Farmako provides patients with a unique Health ID, for free, using which they can visit any doctor or diagnostic lab, and have all their reports uploaded on to one place. “We provide them prescriptions and reports with additional instructions in the regional language, which will be easier to understand,” the co-founder adds.

But, this is not where the start-up’s dreams end. In an attempt to create a suite of services for healthcare professionals, the team of six has also built a management software for small clinics and medium-sized hospitals, to help them optimise their workflow and expenses. A similar interface has also been built for pathology and radiology labs to keep track of all tests, and digitise X-ray reports. “Here, we are attempting to build a complete ecosystem. The big hospitals already have their own proprietary software. It is the smaller ones in Tier-II and Tier-III cities that are often left behind,” says Bhandula.

And, not just doctors, Farmako is also working towards making patients’ lives easier. The next order of business for the start-up is to tie up with local medical stores to launch a 24*7 home delivery service of medicines. Hoping to earn an average of 10% margin on each order placed through the app, the company has targeted Moradabad, Roorkee, Meerut, Bareilly, Agra and Dehradun as its first few markets. “We are basically building a family doctor for everyone —someone who knows your medical history, explains you the complex terms and recommends which nearby doctor or lab to go to,” he summarises.

With seed funding of $1.5 million from HOF Capital, Soma Capital, Backend Capital and other angel investors, Farmako has set its sight on expanding to 300 cities in the next five years and building a robust structural health record system that India can depend on. And, this is nothing to be sneezed at.