India’s healthcare industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors and is expected to reach US$ 372 billion by 2022. The exponential growth of the industry can be attributed to diverse factors such as the emergence of disruptive technologies; increased income levels; rising demand and access to affordable healthcare and insurance; and a spurt in lifestyle diseases, among others.
In recent years, the country’s healthcare sector has witnessed various players from startups to accelerators and corporates scaling new markets to offer innovative solutions that tackle longstanding problems. In particular, digital health startups are crucial to the continued growth of the Indian healthcare ecosystem. They have ushered in new technologies such as wearable tech, telemedicine, genomics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) that are promoting wellness among consumers.
While Indian startups continue to fuel large-scale disruption in the healthcare field, are the corporates playing catch up? How are they transforming the country’s HealthTech ecosystem?
Five corporate programs redefining HealthTech innovation in India
Cultivating a patient-first approach: National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has partnered with GE Healthcare to usher in innovative digital healthcare solutions in the Indian market. Centre of Excellence-Internet of Things (CoE-IoT), NASSCOM’S DeepTech innovation hub for startups, will work with the global healthcare giant to identify real-world healthcare barriers in the market. They will develop solutions that leverage technologies such as AI, Virtual Reality (VR), 3D-printing, robotics and nanotechnology, to build sustainable healthcare systems. The program aims to adopt a patient-first approach and provide quality healthcare solutions that enhance the relationship between medical professionals and patients. The strategic essence of the partnership lies in cost-effective and faster solutions to treat diseases. NASSCOM and GE Healthcare will also work with policymakers to implement policies that will benefit digital healthcare practices.
Powering breakthrough R&D: The future of healthcare in India also rests on breakthrough innovation powered by the R&D teams of healthcare conglomerates. Glenmark Pharma, a leading drugmaker, recently revamped its R&D business to focus on innovative drug discovery and new biological entities as the latest additions to its research portfolio. The company’s innovation pipeline focused on immunology, oncology and pain management, aspires to use cutting-edge technology to address the evolving needs of patients. Its R&D centres use heavy chain heterodimerisation technology based on bio-mimicry. The company also employs big data and analytics for product planning and clinical trials. Glenmark’s Switzerland-based R&D centre has end-to-end capabilities to develop Novel Biological Entities (NBEs).
Creating a healthy economy through CSR: Corporates in the healthcare industry have adopted a strong CSR agenda by leveraging innovative technologies. For example, Biocon Foundation, the CSR arm of Biocon, is using technology for its various humanitarian and social initiatives. The foundation’s ICT-enabled smart clinics have helped bridge resource gaps in marginalised communities. The foundation uses an integrated electronic medical record system, multiple parameter vital sign monitoring and wireless mobile technologies for optimum healthcare delivery.
The foundation believes in low-cost innovative technologies, such as handheld diagnostics, to screen for cancer. For instance, its pathbreaking mobile phone-based health (mHealth) program is used to detect and prevent oral cancer. Another specially developed handheld device enables non-invasive, painless and radiation-free detection of breast abnormalities that are followed up by screening for cancer. Real-time monitoring of health facilities enabled by a live dashboard for clinicians and administrators tracks data, clinical compliance, patient-follow-up notification and disease surveillance.
Disruptive market entrants: Corporate accelerators are trending in the Indian health tech industry. Dutch electronics major Philips established the India chapter of Philips HealthWorks in 2017. Worldwide, it is conceived as an accelerator program to innovate and accelerate healthcare solutions for the domestic market. In India, the program enables the company to identify promising early-stage health tech startups and help them scale their business. The first India cohort of Philips HealthWorks collaborated with clinical partners to develop technology solutions based on AI and deep learning in the healthcare domain. Through such cohorts, the accelerator aims to strengthen the value proposition of Indian startups.
Enabling smart healthcare: Wipro’s Healthcare and Lifesciences solutions is an initiative of Wipro’s consulting practice that leverages digital technology for better patient outcomes. Cloud; IoT; mobility; data and analytics; testing; cognitive learning and automation, are some of the technologies that help meet Wipro’s clients’ health needs. Be it wearable semiconductors or connected healthcare, Wipro aims to find breakthrough solutions to real-world health problems and reimagine the landscape of India’s health tech market.
A vision for the future
Corporate India has a long way to go before it fully leverages the disruptive potential of technology in healthcare. Corporates operate within a restrictive environment that creates a gap between access to healthcare and technology. A teeming population, poor data connectivity, expensive corporate healthcare plans, weak healthcare infrastructure, social inequality and shortage of trained medical professionals are just some of the many challenges faced by the industry. Corporates in the healthcare field have the added responsibility of providing quality healthcare to the masses while making it affordable to all.
The Union Budget 2019 announced INR 64,999 crore as the annual outlay for the healthcare sector this year. However, the corporate players had higher expectations from it. Tax incentives to domestic manufacturers of medical devices, the creation of a health infrastructure fund and the restoration of R&D tax breaks for pharma companies were some of the industry demands that got no mention in the Budget.
However, the government’s pledge to establish a National Research Foundation was seen as a shot in the arm for healthcare corporates. Now, if only the government partners with the healthcare industry for more patients-first initiatives, can we say, ‘all is well.’