What Phaneesh Murthy Learned From Trying To Create India’s First Health Exchange

Tech leader and billionaire Phaneesh Murthy is one of the most successful businesspeople of the past three decades. He’s credited with revolutionizing the IT services industry and almost single-handedly turning his native India into the intellectual tech hub it is today.  

Murthy’s forward-thinking operational management style and his marketing expertise helped him turn once-small tech firms Infosys and iGATE into leading global IT services companies.

From his successes, Murthy learned how to transform fledgling companies into profitable global success stories. But he learned much more from his failures. He recently spoke about one of his ventures that didn’t go according to plan. 

A philanthropist, Murthy dedicated himself to building India’s first health exchange. 

“I was trying to create this massive health exchange,” he said. “It was going to be the first time a consumer or a patient could control his own health record.” 

The scope of the project, government regulations, and under-development in India eventually sunk the project. However, the lessons learned have fueled Murthy’s professional growth. And, they’ve helped public and private health organizations better understand the challenges of building a digital health infrastructure.  

A Different Type of Consumer

Confident in his ability to build a digital environment at scale, Murthy dove head first into building India’s first health exchange. The idea was to give each customer control over their health record and healthcare experience.

“You have really very little control of your own health record,” Murthy explained. “In any market, your health record is stored by the doctor, or the clinic, or the hospital. So, I wanted to create a health record that is yours.”

Using Murthy’s tool, Patients could shop around for healthcare services and see reviews of doctors and facilities. Healthcare providers could also access a patient’s health history digitally (with permission), helping them better understand patients, save time on paperwork, and more. 

While Murthy had ample experience selling digital products to businesses, this was his first B2C venture. And he admits now that he was not equipped to contend with the needs of individual consumers, especially in such a sensitive sector as healthcare. 

“We built this fantastic tech platform,” he said. “But we needed to convince [the consumer] to store their health record in our health vault,” Murthy said. 

While he had mapped out the benefits, he hadn’t fully considered consumers’ perceived risks. Indian consumers, many of whom were not tech-savvy or tech-trusting, were wary of putting their personal information on a digital platform. 

“It was really about consumers and community building,” Murthy said. “And I realized that was a big change in my life, moving from B2B to B2C.”

Though the healthcare exchange did not succeed, Murthy now has a clearer understanding of the needs of B2C customers. He was able to leverage this experience directly while working with a major US insurance company. He transformed the end customer’s journey by incorporating AI and machine learning into digital spaces, creating a more streamlined and simplified experience.    

Risks and Regulations

One of the most difficult aspects of Phaneesh Murhy’s health exchange aspirations was moving from an industry with little regulation (IT services) to an industry covered in red tape (healthcare). Murthy was unprepared for the lack of control he would have over his own creation. 

“I don’t need government permissions to do tech services,” Murthy said. Healthcare was a different story. “I just don’t like being at the mercy of a bunch of policymakers who promise you a lot but very rarely deliver anything,” he continued.

Murthy was caught off guard by the rigidity and sluggishness of regulators. In order for the health exchange to work, it needed the support of the government. While the government dragged its feet, the project bled money until it could no longer sustain itself. 

“Because the regulatory environment didn’t change, we just ran out of money,” Murthy explained. “And [investments] never come in when the regulatory environment is not favorable.” 

Though the venture was stressful, Murthy gained a new respect for highly regulated businesses and the challenges they face. However, he doesn’t plan to work in those sectors again anytime soon. 

“In the future, if I have to do anything I would like to do it in an unregulated space,” he said.   

Failures Breed Future Successes

Today, Phaneesh Murthy serves as CEO of Primentor, Inc., an advisory agency he founded in 2013. He consults with senior executives every day, helping them achieve the same innovative successes that he has—while avoiding his mistakes.

His experience trying to build India’s first healthcare exchange was invaluable to the work he does today. As a consultant for businesses in a variety of industries, he now has a comprehensive understanding of strategies for achieving success across a diverse range of business environments, including B2B and B2C sectors, as well as highly regulated and less regulated industries.

Murthy’s attempt at building the health exchange also demonstrates his sky-high ambition. He notes that even the USA doesn’t have a full health exchange yet, and yet he was attempting to create an ultra-modern solution in India, a nation that wasn’t quite ready in terms of development, regulation, and consumer behavior. 

Despite the failure of the venture, we may see Phaneesh Murthy’s lofty ideas resurface in future health exchanges. His features were fully realized and his digital platform was ready to launch. Hopefully, the world will soon catch up with Murthy’s ambition, and concepts from his health exchange will become realities as nations digitize their health infrastructures.