Toru Institute interviews Praava's Chief Innovation Officer Sawsan Eskander on the future of data and technology in Bangladesh

A conversation with Sawsan Eskander, Chief Innovation Officer at Praava Health. She shared her thoughts on innovation in an organization, Praava’s future plans to use data to improve patient-centric health care services and the future of technology and data in health care in Bangladesh.

What are some of the changes that you have brought to Praava as the Chief Innovation Officer?

I lead the business innovations team. The work comprises of researching global innovations in healthcare, products, and processes. We explore which one of those can be brought to Bangladesh to be implemented by Praava.

The business innovation team also leads all sorts of data strategy and any sort of analytics that we want to do with medical data to help improve outcomes. Praava is a startup. When we started out, one of the big tasks was the map out all the patient journeys—we mapped out how the patient flows from the time they enter to Praava to when they exit Praava. This helped us ensure that it is a very patient-centric process. It is the responsibility of the innovations team to develop efficient and patient-friendly processes.

What are some of the plans for the near future?

In terms of the future, we are pulling up all the healthcare data that we are accumulating. We will soon have a data strategy in place—what do we do with this data and how do we improve outcomes using that data? We will be thinking about how can doctors use that data to intervene, help patients get better and manage their health better?

Also, we hope to implement some apps to improve our service delivery to help patients in real time. Our goal is to improve outcomes—improve the patient’s health and prevent them from being hospitalized.

What challenges are you anticipating?

We are going to be scaling up over the next couple of years. The growth plan is already in place and we hope to go to different locations and increase the number of hubs (from one to 29). One of the main challenges of scaling up will be maintaining quality, making sure that our values are still in place and the efficiencies continue to occur.

What area of innovation has the most potential to create an impact in the health sector, in general?

I think a lot of work will happen and is happening in the technology and data field. As you know, most health care organizations in Bangladesh do not even have data because many health care providers weren’t digitized and most are still not digitized. However, many healthcare providers are starting to implement IT systems so that everything can be electronically captured. I think there will be massive growth in that area.

Some data has been collected from the field, but health care organizations were not necessarily the ones who were recording data. As more health care providers start recording data, it will also be more accurate than doing a field survey. Hopefully, Praava will be leaders in the healthcare industry in terms of data work, given we are one of the first people who has completed integrated healthcare software and we have been collecting data from day one. We can do more research and hopefully continue to help patients.

Another direction that I think will grow is more organizations will work towards bringing health care to your doorstep. Young groups are already working on developing apps and developing gadgets that are more mobile, especially in terms of telemedicine. These movable devices, such as portable x-rays, will help the significant part of our population who cannot reach healthcare.

A concern is, with better health care comes at a higher cost. Can Praava be a leader or be actually truly innovative if it remains inaccessible for the mass market?

Right now our target population is the middle income. Our prices are on par with other diagnostic centers like Labaid or Prescription Point. As we expand, that middle-income group will always be our target. One of our future plans is once we become more profitable, we will start to cross-subsidize. Maybe will offer more affordable services to the poor which will probably be subsided by the middle income generating group.

What are some of the practices that you encourage at Praava, internally, to become more innovative as a whole?

We encourage all our employees to send any ideas that they may have to an email address. At any time, if employees can think of something that can be done differently to make the patient happier, we want to hear about it. We have opened up that door to all our employees and we encourage them to email us; it is like an idea box. We collect that routinely from our employees. Then we analyze the incoming ideas and see which ones can be implemented immediately and which ones can be done later on. 

We have weekly team meetings, like a huddle, where the whole team gets together. These are things that we bring up as reminders at these meetings. In fact, that is another platform where we can share any opportunities or solutions to improve. We also periodically send out specific surveys to our employees which include questions like ‘What do you think are the three top valuable services that we are offering? What do you think are the three things that we need to improve on?”.

Similarly, we are very proactive about feedback from our patients for constant improvement and innovating our processes. We have accessible screens throughout the center if patients want to give feedback, we make follow up calls (without, obviously annoying our patients) and also reach out on email. Amazingly, we have been getting a lot of feedback from the patients.

By asking for improvements, we are really able to rethink and redo our processes from the patient’s perspective. This helps us reach our goal which is that the patient is at the heart of everything.