We talked to Shelley Saxena of Sevamob about the use of AI in healthcare.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Shelley Saxena: Thanks for checking. We are doing well and haven’t had any issues so far.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Sevamob.
Shelley Saxena: I was born in Lucknow, India, and did Bachelor’s in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee. After graduation, I did product development for various products in IBM and then did an MBA from Cornell. After my MBA, I did product management, channels, and goto market work in various product groups in IBM. In 2010, I co-founded a cloud-based mobile technology startup, which is profitable. Five years ago, an episode with my mom led to the founding of Sevamob. She was incorrectly diagnosed and almost lost her life because of Hepatitis C. If this could happen in a Tier 2 city in India, I realized that the situation was worse in Tier 3 and rural.
So we started a primary healthcare service in rural and soon switched to a B2B model, which was more sustainable. Over time, we added different types of rapid diagnostics, specialized services, and telehealth and scaled it to 15+ states of India and 1 state of the US. We have also done pilots in southern Africa. Roughly 2 years ago, we ventured into artificial intelligence to address some gaps that could not be addressed through off-the-shelf products.
How does Sevamob innovate?
Shelley Saxena: We have 2 types of innovation:
- Product innovation: This involves using technology to deliver more primary care services at point-of-care in low resource settings and also to reduce the cost of those services. Our innovation includes:
o AI-based triage and point-of-care screening for blood, vision, urine, sputum, and diet. This can be used by health workers with minimal training and works offline in low resource settings. This increases the productivity of nurses and enables them to deliver services that normally require specialists
o Telehealth infrastructure for video consultations and second opinions. This increases the availability of physicians in underserved areas
- Process innovation
o Our hybrid model for primary care is scalable, replicable, requires very little capex, and can cover a much larger coverage area. In this group model, a medical team can serve 3-4X the number of patients in comparison to the fixed clinic model.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Shelley Saxena: The Covid-19 pandemic has been favorable to our business. Since April 2020, we have received 18+ new contracts for Covid services, including prevention awareness, assessment, screening, treatment/referral, and tracking.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Shelley Saxena: We realized very quickly that we have to pivot to survive. We added onsite Covid services and also increased the use of telehealth to minimize risk and increase availability. Simultaneously, we reduced our operating expenses and arranged a line of credits for an emergency.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Sevamob in the future?
Shelley Saxena: In the next 5 years, we intend to increase our penetration in South Asia and replicate in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are also in the process of getting regulatory approvals for our AI technology so that it can be deployed more widely, including in countries like the US.
I do meditation, gardening, dancing, running, hiking, and reading to deal with stress anxiety.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shelley Saxena: Our competitive landscape includes:
· Healthcare IT providers like Practo
· Artificial intelligence tech providers like Sigtupl
· Last mile primary care clinics
Our competitive advantage is:
· Up to 50% lower cost of primary care by integrating artificial intelligence with tele-health and scalable last-mile service delivery
· Our AI is rapid, point-of-care, low cost, works in low resource settings and can be used by a nurse or a technician
· Four patents filed on artificial intelligence (skin infection detection, diet/exercise/stress reduction plan, cell counting, blood and sputum sample pre-processing)
Your final thoughts?
Shelley Saxena: During black swan events like the pandemics, the companies which can pivot and innovate and stay lean are more likely to survive.