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Panasonic hospital app to match Indians with better, cheaper care

Idea hatched at joint venture with Tata Consultancy could reach 900m people

In creating new businesses in India, Panasonic relies on local staff. (Photo by Shiko Ueda)

OSAKA -- Panasonic seeks to give lower-income Indian people living outside urban areas access to the most suitable medical treatment through an app.

Patients who visit hospitals using the app will receive a 10% to 20% discount. The service was developed at an innovation center launched last year by the Japanese electronics company and Tata Consultancy Services, the Indian information technology market leader.

Panasonic plans to team up with more than 10 hospitals in northern India this year and establish call centers staffed by licensed medical practitioners. Hospital personnel will offer consultation to app users and refer them to the best available facility based on their symptoms.

The service is set to launch by summer, including in the big northern state of Uttar Pradesh, before expanding throughout India. It could reach about 900 million people out of India's total population of around 1.3 billion, Panasonic estimates.

The company aims to replicate the business model in other markets, especially emerging countries in the Middle East and Africa with business practices and social issues similar to India's.

Services and products Panasonic offers abroad are typically developed in Japan. The company used an Indian location this time around to tailor its service to local demand. Cheap smartphones are spreading among low- to middle-income Indian people outside urban centers, but hospital visits are still rare.

To promote the app, Panasonic will partner with local lenders that make small loans in rural villages. The Japanese company will collect a roughly 10% commission on hospital fees. The service is also geared to serve urban hospitals seeking more patients from outside city limits.

India has been slow to build systems of health insurance and family registers that track events such as births, deaths, marriages and adoptions. Panasonic is considering using patients' records of hospital visits accumulated through the service to match treatments to patients, as well as eventually creating new businesses in partnership with government agencies. It also seeks to cultivate ties with hospitals to sell information systems and other products.

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