Mumbai-based platform Dial4242 provides Indians with an app that can book an ambulance in under 15 seconds, for a cost of just 100 rupees.

Dial4242 lead image, ambulance, India

Photo courtesy of Dial4242

India is becoming a superpower with its advancements in technology and space missions, but it’s lagging in healthcare innovations. A study by the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet found that 2.4m Indians die every year from treatable conditions, the worst statistics among 136 nations.

One big failing in the healthcare system is patient transportation and response time. The average ambulance response time in India is between 25 and 30 minutes, with rural areas having an even longer response rate, according to online ambulance service provider Ambipalm. Poor road conditions, heavy traffic and ambulance shortages all contribute to the problem.

Jeetendra Lalwani, co-founder of Dial4242

Dial4242, a Mumbai-based startup, is trying to change that with an app designed to book ambulances during an emergency in under 15 seconds. Added features in the app allow users to track ambulances around a given locality, predict estimated time of arrival, and connect patients’ families with respective ambulance service providers.

“Today, we can support our users in real-time with a turnaround time of 12 minutes. That is a record that no one has accomplished in this space. We have delivered on the promises we have made,” says Jeetendra Lalwani, co-founder of Dial4242.

A 12-minute wait-time is similar to what you would expect in the urban areas of Norway, for example.

Dial4242, which was founded in 2016, is already operating in more than 70 cities and has a network of more than 12,000 ambulances.

Dial4242 product

Lalwani, a former advertising executive, says that his own experience of Indian healthcare pushed him to launch Dial4242. “There was no ‘eureka’ moment when it came to launching this company. I wasn’t driven by the desire to make millions of dollars. I lost my dad in 2016, and when he was at the final stages of his life I had to regularly call ambulances for him,” he says.

“I have gone through that pain point and I hope nobody else goes through that. That is the reason I started this company. The simple mission is to save everybody’s life. People are much poorer now too and cannot afford ambulances so we also help those people, too.”

One of the big issues with ambulances in India is affordability. Depending on the state, ambulance services may have to be paid for, and the price point may be beyond many people’s needs.

“In India, it’s currently around 3500 rupees for an ambulance. Our membership makes ambulances accessible and available at just 100 rupees, which is valid for a year. Members are also guaranteed to have an ambulance reach them in 15 minutes,” Lalwani says.

Investment in healthcare on-demand services

Dial4242 is part of a wave of digital transformation that is beginning to transform India’s healthcare market. A report by Business Today, an Indian business magazine, found that digital transformation in the country has the potential to accelerate tenfold from $2.7bn in 2022 to $37bn by 2030.

Lalwani says that Dial4242 helps address the setbacks in the healthcare system in India. “India is a superpower, but basic healthcare needs remain a challenge. We are bringing about a big moment of change in healthcare in India.”

Photo courtesy of FreePik

Lalwani says that many people are noticing the importance of the healthcare market. “Healthcare is not being taken seriously in India, and people have started realising it. We are here to ensure that happens in a proper manner.”

Though the technology was initially built to reshape Indian healthcare, Lalwani says the entire business model can be applied to other countries and has to potential to go global. “We can forward our technology to other countries such as African countries and Southeast Asia.”

Other notable healthcare on-demand service startups emerging in India include NetMeds, an online platform that provides delivery services for medicines and which raised $109m over four rounds.

Lalwani says that the right technology and the right mindset will mean any healthcare startup will succeed in today’s climate. “If you have the right product and you are passionate about it, you will get the investors. I haven’t found it a challenge to find investors.”

Though Lalwani speaks positively of the healthcare investment sector in India, it has not all been plain sailing. Many of these healthcare startups fail due to a lack of new technologies, poor funding, or due to their unique business models. DocTalk, a collaborative platform for patients and healthcare organisations, was forced to shut down in 2018 due to a lack of investment.

Other healthcare startups that have failed include ConnectedH, a B2B health tech startup that offered CRM solutions and report management tools for diagnostic labs. The company shut down in 2023 due to its failure to address market realities through its technology.

Corporate interest and funding rounds

Dial4242 has raised $519,000, and in 2023 raised $120,301 in a seed round led by angel investor G Vamshi Raju and venture capital firm Starfish Ventures.

Lalwani says that the money will be used to expand the business. “It will be primarily used for hiring the right people and building upon the operations and technology,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Dial4242

Most of the investors and interest shown in Dial4242 have been from the insurance and healthcare industry, says Lalwani. “Once our product becomes more aligned with insurance companies, that is when I believe users will start taking us more seriously.”

The startup has yet to receive funding from corporate investors but Lalwani says that many corporations have supported Dial4242. “We have done a few CSR campaigns with the help of corporations like HDFC Bank and other unnamed companies that have given us their CSR funds to help support the poor and needy in the country.”

He also says that many corporations are noticing the benefit of Dial4242’s technology and have implemented it in their own businesses. “Tata Group has signed up with us to support their employees alongside some of the biggest brands in India like Samsung, Kellogg’s and Mariko, to help their workers get better access to healthcare,” he says.

“Corporates are very serious about the ambulance service. They have probably shown more interest now than they did in the Covid era, as our business increased 300 times compared to the pandemic period,” says Lalwani.

Indian restaurant corporation Zomato has also collaborated with Dial4242 to provide ambulance support to delivery partners. Delivery partners can also access free health checkups and eye testing alongside this collaboration.

“What we are doing is groundbreaking. We are making ambulances accessible to everyone at their fingertips. It is truly a big moment for India,” says Lalwani.