Healthcare in India is booming. And with the growing demand for specialised and affordable healthcare services on the rise, the Indian startup scene is revolutionising how smart healthcare services are helping patients make informed decisions. In this scenario, it’s no surprise that Softbank’s venture capital arm is planning to invest USD 10-20 million in startups across industries, with healthcare being one of them.
Emerging technologies have two benefits. Not only do they bring fresh opportunities to healthcare providers and suppliers, but they also empower patients. Personalisation is the order of the day. Healthcare companies use personalisation to their advantage and upgrade treatment and preventive models and integrate them with connected devices to satisfy patients’ needs. Some key technologies being used in the healthcare space are:
- Artificial intelligence (AI): While it is not yet extensively employed in the healthcare industry, AI will change the way patients are treated. Software algorithms will improve current practices and carry out tasks that require human intelligence. Chatbots that provide diagnostics based on symptom input and automation that supports physicians in image-based diagnostics are just some of the ways AI will effectively reduce the risk of human errors.
- Robotics: Already in use, its application in the healthcare sector include robotic arms for amputees, micro-robots repairing damage from the inside, and robo-assistants in surgeries. We may soon have telepresence robots that examine patients to free up time for medical professionals.
- Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and 3D imaging: These technologies can radically enhance education, training and treatment in today’s healthcare industry. Armed with AR and VR, medical professionals can scan organs and tissue increasing the success of surgeries. Using 3D imaging, AR and VR in a live environment result in higher accuracy, which substantially minimises the chance of damage. Surgeons can use this combination in the form of enabled glasses, which reduce eye fatigue during an operation while trainee surgeons will benefit from a more advanced and effective educational experience.
- 3D Printing: The healthcare industry is expected to raise investments in 3D printing from 1.6 per cent in 2016 to 20 per cent by 2026. Prosthetics and dental implants have already been successfully printed. 3D Printing also allows for the creation of personalised medication dosing and customised pills. The most ambitious goal for this technology, however, is the creation of living tissue and organs within the next 20 years.
Indian entrepreneurs today are leveraging these technologies to create novel and locally relevant digital solutions that address healthcare affordability and accessibility challenges. As a result, they have become integral to the healthcare system. As of 2018, there are a total of 4,892 startups in the Indian health tech space. The health tech startups in India have raised a total of USD 504 million between 2014-2018, and the numbers are only growing. The Indian healthcare market is expected to be valued at USD 372 billion by 2022.
DocsApp is one such pioneer. Founded in 2015, DocsApp helps patients connect and talk with different specialist doctors. Patients can choose to do so via video, voice call and chat options. There are currently over 5000 specialist doctors registered on the platform, providing consultations across 15 specialities. Users can also order medicines and book diagnostic tests with the app. DocsApp has a user base of over six million people across metro cities and smaller towns. The advantage of this app is that 70 per cent of primary healthcare issues can be solved without the physical presence of a doctor. By focusing on bridging the existing gaps in India’s healthcare sector, DocsApp has gained a massive scale in India. The app has seen a positive response in Tier 1, 2, and 3 cities and with those with no access to quality healthcare. Thanks to its targeted solutions and exceptional metrics, DocsApp has achieved a leadership position in the market. The app raised Rs 12 crore led by InnoVen Capital, a debt and speciality firm and will use the capital to expand their business.
Forus health is another startup that is leading the way. It designs and develops products and solutions to ophthalmologists in India and internationally. The startup’s first product is 3netra Classic, which was launched in 2011 and screens the cornea and retina for four major conditions—cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cornea issues. 3netra is portable, screening can be done in five minutes by a minimally trained technician, and physicians can make their diagnosis using telemedicine technologies. Priced at USD 10,000, 3netra is available as one-third the cost of any competing offering. The Bengaluru-based startup also received FDA approval at the beginning of this year and recently launched its neonatal eye screening device 3nethra Neo. In addition, Forus Health will set up its first subsidiary in the U.S shortly.
Government support powers Digital India
Digital healthcare is a key focus area under the Centre’s plans for a Digital India. In fact the government has recognised the importance of a healthy startup ecosystem, resulting in the launch of the Start-up India program in 2016. As a result, the number of healthcare and life sciences startups recognised by the government under the program is the second highest, next only to the IT services industry.
Alongside this, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has designed several initiatives to deliver better access to affordable quality care and also lower the disease burden and monitoring of health entitlements to citizens. The National Health Policy 2017 has three distinct goals:
- Use electronic mediums to gather district-level health data by 2020
- Reinforce the health surveillance system by establishing registries for specific diseases by 2020
- Establish a federated national e-health architecture by setting-up health information exchanges and national Health Information Network by 2025
To reach these goals, the Indian government is establishing regulatory bodies such as National eHealth Authority and National Digital Health Authority and launching new legislation and policies such as the Digital Information Security in Healthcare Act which will regulate digital health data and ensure privacy.
The government also launched the Ayushman Bharat program in 2018 to address holistic healthcare delivery:
- Primary healthcare: 150,000 health and wellness centres will be created to provide comprehensive primary healthcare services
- Secondary and tertiary care: A National Health Protection Scheme, which will be the world’s largest government-funded healthcare insurance program that provides approximately 100 million families with medical support worth INR 0.5 million per family per year.
The Ayushman Bharat program will be backed by the use of digital technologies and telemedicine services to improve the quality, affordability and accessibility of healthcare. Thanks to the digital push and the government’s support, we are witnessing the emergence of startups in India. However, there are several challenges in the sector which an interested entrepreneur needs to address.
Challenges to overcome
In the last decade, the Indian startup environment has diversified. Healthcare startups have struggled in India due to fundamental and operational problems. Raising funds, understanding regulatory processes and collaborating with bigger competitors are the main challenges that Indian life sciences and healthcare startups are facing today. Due to the difficulties associated with partnering with larger companies, 71 per cent of startups have collaborated with smaller or mid-sized companies with revenues of less than INR 100 crore. The current system also lacks sufficient infrastructure to meet the healthcare demands of the country. It is making healthcare less affordable and accessible for all.
To overcome this, startups are adopting digital technologies in the areas of patient engagement, field force effectiveness, smart mobile apps for appointment bookings, physician engagement, interactive portals, supply chain management and R&D efficiency.
Life sciences companies need to invest in platform capabilities to capture future value, notwithstanding their business models. The companies must lay down an effective strategy to build a workplace of the future, and while doing so, align their talent and digital strategy with the overall organisational vision.
The Indian healthcare system today faces enormous problems due to the lack of funding for preventive healthcare, training of healthcare professionals and investment in healthcare infrastructure, especially in rural areas. Startups can help resolve these problems. Using AI with existing components, such as cameras and smartphones, can help doctors make faster and more accurate diagnoses and thus increase efficiency. Also, startups can facilitate the process by connecting patients with medical specialists and providing technology that allows patients to share medical records with their doctors easily.
Indigenous innovation also needs to be nurtured and supported. With this, startups can help make India the MedTech innovation hub for global emerging markets. in fact, new MedTech startups are designing and developing novel technologies and proprietary, patented, products for healthcare challenges facing ordinary Indians. Innovation that addresses specific problems is driving this new wave of MedTech, and tapping associated economic opportunities, seen in Indian healthcare. The Indian MedTech sector is coming of age as is evidenced by the strong growth in innovative startups that are creating novel technologies to solve Indian and global challenges.
Digital health-tech startups are showing signs of success. They have been experimenting with a variety of business models successfully and have catered to various stakeholders in the health ecosystem. It the responsibility of these enterprises now to scale-up solutions and demonstrate the broader applicability of information and communication technology solutions in the healthcare ecosystem. With a steady scale-up of tech-driven healthcare delivery, they can build a more efficient healthcare system with better outcomes for patients.
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