A Q&A with Charac Founder and CEO, Santosh Sahu

Charac believe that a holistic approach and rapid digitisation will help independent pharmacies safeguard their businesses and create new revenue sources amid pressure from the NHS. The platform enables pharmacies to digitise current processes by providing repeat prescription and consultations via phone, video, desktop, or mobile.

Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Santosh Sahu, the Founder and CEO of Charac. I’m a graduate of Henley Business School, and have spent twenty years in the banking, IT, and retail sectors. I decided to go into entrepreneurship in 2014, heading up projects such as the award-winning delivery service ‘On the dot’, which had customers like Waitrose and Just Eat.

Explain Charac

Charac is on a mission to digitise independent community pharmacies, enabling them to survive and thrive. Britain’s 11,700 high-street pharmacies – which are an essential pillar of British healthcare and are struggling with funding and staffing pressures, at the same time as responsibilities increase. Charac provides an all-in-one online portal that pharmacies can use to book deliveries, keep digital patient records, hold online appointments, and track prescriptions. Charac will streamline the running of high-street pharmacies immensely, helping to keep them open, profitable, and serving their communities. 

How did COVID-19 accelerate digital healthcare?

Everyone knows the old proverb “necessity is the mother of invention”. This was certainly the case during the pandemic. Many everyday aspects of healthcare were suspended or severely curtailed, and this drove a search for innovative and novel solutions. But more than this, the pandemic gave us all a big insight into what healthtech can achieve. Video appointments; online booking; tracking medications and prescriptions – these have the potential to power up British healthcare, drive efficiency, reduce unnecessary costs and put it on a surer foundation for the future.

What makes London a healthtech hub? Will this continue into 2030?

Britain’s healthtech industry is the third largest in the world and is growing rapidly – investment grew ninefold from 2016 to 2021, reaching a value of $3.8 billion. There are many reasons why Britain, and specifically London, has been so successful in building up its healtech sector. The first is the sheer amount of talent available. A little over half of the British workforce is educated to a degree level, and Britain’s world-leading universities are a magnet for the best talent.

The ‘Golden Triangle’ of universities in London, Oxford, and Cambridge forms an innovation cluster, and is home to 508 healthtech startups. Britain also has a robust system of intellectual property law, which encourages would-be innovators to set up here.

In all likelihood these strengths will only grow as we head towards the 2030s. The fundamentals – talent, education, and patent law – are strong. Moreover, Britain’s ageing population will spur the industry further on as society looks for ways to adapt healthcare provision.

What challenges is the UK healthcare system experiencing, and how will technology help over the next 10 years?

The main change is, again, Britain’s ageing population. Healthcare is set to take up a greater and greater share of public spending, and this will drive a search for ways to modernise provision while still keeping it available to all. Technology will play a key role. A large number of healthcare tasks from appointment records to PET scans can be sped up with new AI tools, or automated entirely – Japan is one example of a country very much leading the way in this regard. But we should also try to modernise the basics to improve healthcare efficiency: many of Britain’s high-street pharmacies, for example, still use paper records.

Do you see the future of pharmacies moving online?

I see technology as more of a supplement than a replacement to physical pharmacies. There will always be a demand and need for a brick-and-mortar location where you can have personal, face-to-face consultations with a pharmacist. Indeed, physical locations will be more needed than ever under the new policy of ‘Pharmacy First’. Under these plans, pharmacies will be tasked with treating minor ailments like sore throats and earaches – which of course has to be done in person.

In short, there is nothing inherently outdated about physical pharmacies – but they do urgently need a technological upgrade if they are to survive and thrive. The sector is not currently in a good state – Lloyd’s Pharmacy, Britain’s largest pharmacy chain, recently announced that it is considering selling off its entire network. Many pharmacies are still mired in manual and rote tasks, which reduces efficiency. Pharmacy staff could cut down on admin time by digitalising prescriptions and medical records, which would free up time for them to focus on patients. Online appointments, digital booking, and a greater use of social media could bring customers through the door, generating much-needed revenue.

Will AI need to have its own version of the Hippocratic Oath?

I don’t think so. An AI – like a brain – is something that interprets information and makes decisions. We might worry that an AI’s decisions in the realm of healthcare might not align with our own values, but to me that is a question of enforcing the Hippocratic Oath in AI decisions – not in coming up with a new one.

What changes/developments can we expect to see in digital healthcare over the next 10 years?

One transformative change will come from Artificial Intelligence. New AI tools are being developed that can analyse medical photos, write appointment notes, and scan medical literature. We are also seeing a shift away from expensive hardware systems towards cheaper software solutions that smaller businesses can afford. Britain’s healthtech industry is leading the way on this – and it has the power to level the playing field across the healthcare landscape.