Our target is to take emergency patient transportation to small towns with sketchy health infra: Medulance co-founder Pranav Bajaj
Aug 05, 03:08

Medulance is one of India's leading end-to-end emergency response service providers. Bootstrapped since inception in 2017, it has an aggregated fleet of over 7,500 ambulances across 60 cities.

In a public-private partnership with the Delhi government, it runs a fleet of 100 ambulances in the city. These have assisted more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients in the last one year.

Co-Founder Pranav Bajaj heads the company's corporate alliances, business development, finance, and HR. In a chat with Moneycontrol, he talks about the firm's journey so far, future plans, and efforts to launch the country's first smart ambulances over the next few months. Edited excerpts:

When and why should one call Medulance?

We have an aggregated a fleet of about 200-250 ambulances in metro cities, and smaller fleets of about 100 ambulances in tier-two, tier-three cities. Generally, people call the closest hospital they can think of, but a hospital provides the ambulance to bring the patient only to their own hospital. What we do is allocate the ambulance closest to the emergency location, which will reach within 10-15 minutes, and take the patient to the nearest possible multi-specialty hospital or a hospital of the patient's choice.

What you would say is the USP of your service?

I would say it is our technology, in terms of our dispatch software. We geo-map the location of all the ambulances, and have integrated technologies that allow us to reach even families without smartphones. The other USP is the kind of ambulances we've on-boarded. Also, that we work with drivers and paramedics trained in something as advanced as life support, and something as simple as operating an emergency vehicle. Even our drivers know how to provide oxygen support to the patient, handle the stretcher, or even assist the paramedic if required.

Over time, we have also learnt to navigate issues like negotiating tall buildings without elevators, and taking care of nitty-gritties such as handling obese patients with adequate manpower.

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You are working with the Delhi government. Are there plans to tie up with other state governments, too?

Absolutely, I would say that we have seen a lot of success working with the government in Delhi. This was our first partnership with a state government, though we had already been working with state-run PSUs like NTPC and Coal India, among others.

The tie up with the Delhi government has been special as we not only have we been able to provide a reliable ambulance service to the government, but also been able to manage end-to-end emergency response: right from call answer, dispatch, to even sharing location data with the government, and using our technology to provide a quicker service. Now we want to take this success to at least two more state governments, one of which is Rajasthan.

How important has pricing been in Medulance's journey so far?

We realised pricing was a big issue as service providers were charging whimsically, and at times exorbitantly. This happens because ambulances are called when there's an emergency, and service providers feel they can charge any amount.

When we started working with private ambulance service providers in Delhi in 2017, our first initiative was to introduce a standardised rate card that could be used across ambulance services, based on whether it was an ambulance with basic life support or advanced life support, which is like an ICU on wheels, or a mortuary service to carry dead patients. We try and ensure that we have the best possible pricing for each ambulance service that we provide.

As we need to run a sustainable business, we are not able to provide free ambulance services. But we have collaborated with NGOs and government entities, who provide free services to the people.

What is next on your radar?

We are already in talks to get our services included in health insurance policies. We have worked with a lot of corporates whose employees are insured and realised that this works. If an employee of an organisation, for example, calls for an ambulance, there is no need to discuss pricing, because he knows that it is part of his package. The employee asks for an ambulance, the ambulance is dispatched, and the cost reimbursed either by the organisation or the insurance company. We want that seamless experience for people who may need an ambulance.

We would like to expand our services to 100-plus cities in the next six to eight months. We also want to increase our fleet strength from 7,500 to about 10,000 to 12,000 ambulances. Besides, tier-two and tier-three cities, we want to reach even smaller towns.

This is important because we realise that emergency response is very important in these towns because the closest possible multi-specialty hospital or even primary or secondary care hospitals may be 40-50 kms away from the patient's location. It becomes critical to have good quality ambulances in such places, and to work closely with the government.

You have an ambitious plan to launch smart ambulances. Can you please elaborate on that?

We are launching a fleet of about 10 smart ambulances, and are testing it with one of the telecom service providers. We plan to roll it out along with 5G, as that will make the services more effective. Our tests show the smart ambulances work very well, both from a transportation point of view, and from a clinical point of view, which is important.

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There have been prototypes tested over the past few years. When a patient is inside a smart ambulance, the paramedic with him can connect with the doctor remotely through an interface, and the patient's vitals such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, etc., can be transmitted in real-time. This allows the doctor to give lifesaving instructions to the paramedic, and by the time patient reaches the hospital, the staff there is ready to handle him with the required medical context.

What was your experience during COVID-19?

COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in the healthcare system not only in India, but across the world. Services like ours came to the forefront. We were getting 400-500 calls a day, but could cater to only about 75-80 percent of them. We had to step up our services, mainly in terms of training, specifically for Covid. As finding a hospital bed was difficult during the peak period, sometimes patients would be in our ambulances for hours, and they would be on oxygen. As oxygen availability was a serious challenge, there were many instances when oxygen cylinders were robbed from our ambulances.

What do you think about the government's policy interventions for the sector?

The government is already looking at such services more closely than they were earlier. The Supreme Court's direction to state governments to integrate private ambulance services along with state services has helped operators like us.

What this means is that every private ambulance service provider should be part of the government network as well, which will provide for better support. However, the government should ensure that only legal ambulance services with a valid fitness certificate ply on the roads.