Welcome to our new series Possible If You Want, powered by Grameenphone, exploring the power and possibilities of the internet. Over the perhaps last 20 years, the internet has reshaped our world. Today, we communicate and connect differently. We shop and consume differently. We build companies and solve problems differently. The internet has penetrated and transformed almost every area of our lives.
This series is about our innate possibilities, the power of the internet, and what happens when we bridge the two. We’ll be interviewing some of the country’s successful technology entrepreneurs and learn about their vision, their take on the power and possibilities of the internet, how they personally and their businesses use technology to tackle some of the pressing problems of our society and much more.
All the stories will be exclusively published in Future Startup and you can find them here.
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed how we avail healthcare services in Bangladesh. Over the last one year, we have seen an unprecedented growth in digital healthcare solutions such as telemedicine, on-demand medicine and medical tests and so on. The transformation has allowed patients to avail healthcare staying at the safety of their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Praava Health is one of the few companies that have helped make this transformation happen.
In this excellent interview, Praava Health Founder, Managing Director, and CEO Sylvana Quader Sinha, explains how digital healthcare services have gone mainstream amid the coronavirus pandemic, the work Praava Health has done in the space, how the internet has transformed our lives and work and enabled individuals to access resources and pursue opportunities that were hard to access before, her work at Praava Health, and much more.
Praava Health, the healthcare startup that describes itself as “a network of Family Health Centers” and provides family doctors and diagnostics services in Dhaka, started its full-fledged operation in Dhaka in February 2018 with one center in Banani.
It has since expanded as a team and as a business. The company has six labs that can do 250-unique tests and has built Bangladesh’s first PCR lab for molecular cancer diagnostics. Praava also offers a handful of membership plans and has a home care service where doctors and nurses visit patients at home.
Praava claims that it has the first-ever fully integrated hospital information system in Bangladesh. It means Praava keeps all medical records of a patient, which patients can access anytime from anywhere using Praava mobile app. Once you are registered with Praava, you can connect your app with your Praava registration number and access your records online from anywhere. You can also make appointments and communicate with Praava using the app.
“I was born and brought up in the United States, mostly in Virginia, but my family is from Bangladesh and my roots are in here in Bangladesh. I used to visit Bangladesh occasionally. My grandfather was here and all of my relatives were here.
As a young girl who grew up in America, on my visits to Bangladesh as a child, I was very affected and intrigued by the extreme poverty that existed in this country despite its wealth in resources. That’s when I began to become interested in the development sector, which would eventually dictate many decisions in my later life.
After graduating high school in Virginia, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Economics from Wellesley College, in Massachusetts. After graduation from college, I worked as a strategy consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for a while and then I went to graduate school – I went to law school at Columbia University and also pursued a master’s in International Development from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. That was at kind of a perfect intersection of my interest in foreign policy, development, and law. While in graduate school, I did summer internships at law firms in both New York and India.
For many years I worked in international law and international development, including at The World Bank and major international law firms, and in US foreign policy as an advisor to then-Senator Barack Obama.
I worked on Obama’s campaign primarily because I wanted to learn from the incredible minds he had pulled together – including Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Denis McDonough.
When it looked like he would win, I considered pursuing a role in his administration, but I had always believed that a big problem with US foreign policy was that policy setters hadn’t spent enough time abroad. I decided I shouldn’t be part of that problem, so I moved to Afghanistan with the World Bank at the end of 2008.
I spent four years in Afghanistan, with the World Bank and the US Institute of Peace, along with other UN agencies in the Middle East and South Asia. My work was the perfect confluence of my interest in law and development and US foreign policy.
After working very closely with the people in Washington jobs I thought I wanted, I found myself craving the accountability and pace of the private sector. I also wasn’t feeling as directly connected to the impact of my work.
I went back to a “big law firm” in NYC, working on some fascinating international disputes, but I was still craving more.
I always had this yearning to create something of my own – to touch people’s lives directly – but my career had taken me in a very different direction than I had expected.
I was feeling a little lost at that point. I started thinking seriously about the Bangladesh market, and what I might be able to do to create impactful change in the country. I knew there was a dire need for quality health care services.
A few years prior to that, in 2010, my mother was hospitalized at one of Bangladesh’s top hospitals for a basic operation. We expected that the routine procedure would go smoothly, yet she suffered such dramatic complications that we nearly lost her. It was one of the top hospitals in Bangladesh. They diagnosed her with cancer which was later dismissed when we consulted doctors in Thailand.
It was really an eye-opening experience that brought me in direct contact with the healthcare system and how it was failing – for the first time. That’s just one example. I would soon come to realize that many people in this country have a story to share about the negligence they have experienced from hospitals and the broader healthcare system.
My mother was lucky to be treated at one of the best hospitals in the country. Not everyone can afford such treatment or go abroad, for that matter. I spent a great deal of time thinking about the tremendous need to change the health sector in Bangladesh.
In 2014, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to be part of a needed change in the way healthcare was delivered in Bangladesh. The idea of Praava was still a seed, and I had no idea what it would blossom into. I went on a mission to understand the reality in the healthcare space in Dhaka. I began to listen to everyone who would talk to me about their experiences with the healthcare system in Bangladesh.
Since everyone has been a patient at some point in their life, everyone has a story and a perspective to share. I would listen to anyone who would talk to me. When I would ask people to share with me their experiences, usually they would start talking and floodgates would open up. There are in fact good doctors in Bangladesh, and not all the stories were bad. But there are some systematic issues which are failing the patients.
I had also met with doctors and others working in the healthcare industry – not just in Bangladesh but also in the region and a lot of time internationally in the US, in Asia, and in India. It is an incredibly exciting time to be working globally in healthcare – some of the richest countries in the world are failing to serve their citizens, and everyone is trying to understand these problems and offer solutions
Consistently, I heard Bangladeshi patients complain about a lack of trust in their healthcare system. In fact, anyone who can afford to travel abroad for healthcare does, often at substantial personal expense and sacrifice.
I thought this might be because there was only one internationally accredited lab in the country resulting in a high percentage of diagnostic errors. But in fact, the #1 reason patients are traveling abroad is an absence of trust – they feel the doctors in Bangladesh don’t spend enough time answering their questions or listening to them.
In fact, a British Medical Journal study published in 2017 ranked Bangladesh at the bottom of 67 countries surveyed in terms of the amount of time doctors are spending with patients – the average primary care doctor in Bangladesh spends 48 seconds with each patient – compared to 2 minutes per patient in India, and 5-22 minutes per patient in more developed countries. That was very interesting. There is this huge trust gap in the system but it really starts with the relationship between patients and their medical service providers.
I decided there were 2 major problems that I wanted to fix –
1) I wanted to improve trust in the system, and help patients feel that they were being heard and taken seriously, and
2) I wanted to offer quality diagnostic testing so that people didn’t have to double, triple and quadruple check their test results for accuracy, even sometimes traveling abroad in order to do so.
That was the inspiration for the core concept of Praava. At Praava, we take this relationship between patients and doctors very seriously. Our doctors spend a lot of time with the patients and there is a real relationship between these two parties. We actually guarantee 15-minute appointment slots for every patient.”