Today, we announced our USD 4.6Mn Series A funding led by Celesta Capital, supported by Tata 1mg, Unitus Ventures, and Axilor Ventures, along with participation from some incredible angels. We were clear that we would only work with investors who really understood the business and the non-linear paths to scale. Sudhir and the team at Celesta not only understood our business but proactively added to the vision and direction, and this made them our first choice in this crucial time. We are really excited about what this means for our vision of making diagnosis more accessible and accurate, and we invite you to check out the details of the raise here and here.Rather than simply announcing the funding in another press release, I want to shed more light on the current state of diagnosis for both patients and doctors; how we envision the future, and most importantly, how we intend to shape it. Syed and I always maintain that we are accidental venture-funded entrepreneurs – TAM, SAM, and SOM were just rhyming words, nothing else. Our journey in 5C started after we personally experienced a problem with a late diagnostic report in Bangalore. The thought that hit us immediately was that if there were no Radiologists in the heart of Bangalore city, we could expect a far more acute shortage in Tier-2 cities. For the most part, Radiologists are concentrated where most of the demand (and affordability) is, which is in Metro cities. We saw first-hand how hospitals in non-metro cities were willing to work on a critical part of their clinical workflow with two first-time, earnest but inexperienced healthcare entrepreneurs.
An “India” problem, not just a “Bharat” problem
In startup parlance, Bharat is Tier-2 India and beyond – and 5C was building for Bharat in our early days. Our clients were hospitals and diagnostic centers that did not have access to a Radiologist at all or had one coming in once every few days at best. We solved for access. In the backend, we built out a network of Radiologists from across the country who would give us chunks of their time in a day to interpret these scans coming in from across India.We soon realized that hospitals and diagnostic centers in Metro and Tier-1 cities also required us; not just for access, but for clear financial, operational, and clinical reasons. Deep clinical expertise, which is affordable and available on-demand became our calling card. We have had the pleasure of working with some of India’s largest hospitals, hospital chains, and diagnostic centers. Some of them have incredibly high clinical standards that we needed to live up to, and this challenged us to get better. We saw how Teleradiology was almost a bad word in some of the centers we went to work with. They were scarred by fly-by-night operators looking to make a quick buck, international-focused players, or even large hospitals using them as training fodder and delivering sub-standard reports without realizing the impact on the patient. We knew that we had to focus on clinical excellence to be able to change the trajectory and the perception of the industry.
The future of work for diagnostics
In hindsight, it’s obvious to us that our demand was able to scale only because our supply of radiologists working with us was steadily improving.We noticed (with great pride) that radiologists across the board, including leading senior radiologists to young and ambitious freshers, chose to give up their physical practice space and become virtual consultants. Some reasons were obvious – these radiologists didn’t need to navigate massive traffic snarls, they didn’t have to physically meet people in these pandemic times, and because of not having to wait for patients, they could actually earn more money.But there were a couple of other extremely relevant points. Firstly, the radiologists said that with the technology and quality guardrails that 5C provided, they were their best selves on our platform.Secondly, the radiologists felt the impact of the work they were doing – many of them said that the motivation for them to work with us was the fact that their expertise was now available to people across the country.When expertise is empowered digitally to be better than ever before, physical presence is actually a disadvantage. We believe remote and digitally-enabled is the future of work for diagnostic experts in India and abroad as well.You can expect us to invest heavily in technologies that will improve clinical context, clinical decision making and clinical communication amongst various stakeholders, and cement remote, AI-augmented radiologists as the default standard for better diagnosis everywhere, be it in a small diagnostic center in Buxar or in a large tertiary hospital in Bangalore.
Raising the bar
The Sanskrit word Agnipariksha, which means ordeal by fire, signifies so much more. The fire transforms and cleanses. Our experience of working with some of the leading hospitals and their clinical staff can be described as our Agnipariksha – it made us an incredibly sharp and well-oiled clinical delivery machine. Our desire to make our diagnostic reports AAA (Accurate, Articulate, and Actionable) made us build technology that has never been seen in the field before. This had an interesting consequence, and it was our biggest learning – we were raising the bar for our clients and for our industry. Our clients in Damoh were getting the same incredible quality and speed of diagnosis that our demanding clients in Delhi were getting. What we had really built was India’s first quality-assured diagnostic network. If you went to any center that had partnered with 5C, wherever you are, you would be assured of an on-time, accurate, and actionable diagnostic report. Quality is not about going to the biggest name anymore. Everybody everywhere deserves an assurance of quality.Especially today, when hospitals are under pressure to deliver great clinical outcomes while also being under tremendous margin pressure, we found that we fit perfectly into their plans. We have seen so many of our customers being better prepared for emergencies because of our reports.
Strengthening our Diagnostic Pathways with Vit D (Data)
Another massive learning for us, which seems so obvious in hindsight, is that diagnosis does not happen in isolation. Diagnostics are the floodlights of the arena that bear witness to the battle between health and disease.There is something that has happened to the patient before a diagnostic test, and there is something that needs to happen to the patient for them to be cured. Diagnosis bridges this gap. And to do that effectively, we need to understand the context – the context of the patient, the context of the disease, the context of the images, and the context of the previous tests.We are committing some of our best minds and significant resources to strengthen our data science capabilities. Unless we understand context through data, we cannot significantly improve the diagnostic experience. We have one of the largest and richest data repositories across the country, and we have used this to build intelligence to drive better outcomes.During the second wave of COVID-19, we worked closely with the state government to monitor CT Severity scores, and our data played a direct role in quarantine and lockdown policies.Our average Turn Around Time for Chest X-rays is in low single-digit minutes, because of deeply integrated image recognition. Today, 5C is the largest AI-powered medical platform in the country.We are just scratching the surface of what we can do when we marry data and context, and we believe that this is one of the largest and most impactful opportunities available to us today.
Platforms are communities
When we think of platforms, we tend to think of tech. We have always taken the stand that people (users) make platforms successful. There are many distinct users on our platform – physicians, diagnosticians, and technicians – just to name a few. Platforms require each of these users to behave optimally in order to generate better outcomes. But user incentives are not always aligned. Physicians want to see more patients, radiographers want to complete scans faster and radiologists want to see more cases. How do we align their incentives to help each patient with the right diagnosis?Enter the idea of communities, which form the bedrock of well-functioning platforms. Communities nudge members to act in the right way, and this helps align goals. It’s important to add here that incentives need not be monetary alone. Social proof and certifications play an extremely important role.Our radiologists have always been part of a community, but we are expanding our efforts now. We are creating the largest community platform for radiographers and building social proof, certifications and accreditations as strong incentives. The radiographer community is incredible – they are hardworking, proud of their work, and keen to do better, always. We aim to invest in these user communities, and in turn, improve outcomes for everyone.
Building a better experience for everyone
As you would now know, we are using our new dry powder to invest in our data science and AI potential, to invest in communities, and to expand our reach to every corner of India – to every hospital and diagnostic center in the country. But there is an even larger vision that we are chasing.5C is not just a clinical delivery network, we are an integrated network of quality-assured diagnostic centers across India – present in 334 cities in 27 states. Be it in India’s largest private hospital, or a small X-Ray center in BTM Layout, Bangalore, our level of diagnosis delivery remains the same – always excellent. With all the superpowers we are building, and with the support of our patient aggregator partners led by Tata 1mg, we are building the book-and-pay engine for diagnostics. This engine is being built on top of the clinical delivery network that we have already built. Revolutionizing diagnosis in India is one of the most exciting digital opportunities this decade, and we are lucky to be building in this space.We have big dreams, and we are not afraid of them. We do understand that building a large, valuable, and sustainable business takes time, effort, and of course, some amount of luck; but what I can promise you is that we will invest our time, energy thought, and resolve in building a better future for diagnosis.
धीरे-धीरे रे मना, धीरे सब कुछ होय
माली सींचे सौ घड़ा, ॠतु आए फल होय।
माली सींचे सौ घड़ा, ॠतु आए फल होय।