Technology and Healthcare: Collaborating for a Healthier India
Indian healthcare industry is on an upward trajectory, and is expected to touch USD 372 billion by 2022.
Rise in incidence of lifestyle diseases, growing demand for affordable healthcare, exponential rise in number of internet users, technological advancements, rapid insurance penetration, increased life expectancy and government initiatives like e-health, are driving investments and technological innovations into this sector.
India took a leap in healthcare in 2018 by launching the Ayushman Bharat. The mission, through its Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) initiative, established 150,000 health and wellness centres.
However, low doctor-to-patient ratio, lack of an on-time redressal system and database, infrastructure constraints and time barriers remain significant challenges. Moreover a mere 31.5% of hospitals and 16% of hospital beds make it extremely difficult to cater to the demands of 75 % of the population residing in rural India.
With digital healthcare, accessibility and affordability to healthcare can become a reality.
The growing significance of TechHealth
According to the Medical Council of India, the doctor-population ratio stands at 1:1681, assuming 80% of these doctors are available on any given day. This is 10 times less than the WHO recommended ratio of 1:168. However, with the advent of technology and remote health monitoring, accurate and optimised delivery of healthcare no longer seems impossible.
Let’s take for instance, Information and Communications Technology – it not only helps in sharing information between primary and specialty care health professionals, but also assists with second opinion post diagnosis. Besides, the introduction of 5G will further enable reliable communication that has the ability to perform say a remote surgery. (as per World Economic Forum).
With so many possibilities, transformation in healthcare is no longer a distant dream. The numbers, too, speak – according to Inc42’s The State of Startup Ecosystem Report 2018, there are a total of 4,892 startups in the Indian health tech space.
Increasing accessibility through telemedicine
Telemedicine in India is growing at a CAGR(compound annual growth rate) of 20% and is expected to reach a value of USD32 million by 2020.
It all started with Apollo Hospitals setting up a telehealth clinic at Aragonda in 1999. Today, the group uses their telemedicine network to share everything, from reports to graphics.
Telemedicine refers to the practice of caring for patients remotely when the provider and patient are not physically present with each other.
Another telemedicine success story is of CritiNext, founded by Dr. Amit Varma, who is also the founder of Healthcare Fund, Quadria Capital. The company has a Command Centre based out of Fortis Escorts, Delhi and through it, they monitor 350 ICU beds across India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Today, CritiNext also works with Philips and GE.
Practo and mFine are some of the other leading telemedicine startups which offer online/ mobile platforms where patients can directly consult doctors via a phone call or even through messenger.
Online pharmacies transforming healthcare
As per Frost and Sullivan, e-pharmacy is a nascent market worth USD 0.5 billion, but it is expected to grow nearly 7 times to USD 3.7 billion by 2022, riding higher internet penetration.
Several successful startups in this domain – 1mg, Pharmeasy, Netmeds and Medlife have made medicines more accessible and affordable. Apollo Pharmacy has 3,500 stores, and is the largest offline pharmacy; it is also piloting an e-pharma portal. As per DataLabs by Inc42 estimates, the total capital invested in startups operating in the epharma space between 2015 to 2019 is USD 361 million. The total capital inflow in the online pharmacy startups combined makes up around 20% of the total capital invested in the healthtech startup sector of India.
Every ‘cloud’ has a silver lining
One of the big benefits of using online storage and going paperless lies in the usability of the data. This can be attributed to the cloud feature that is being increasingly used by public and private enterprises in the healthcare space. For instance, even if a doctor is travelling and his patient gets urgently admitted, he can monitor the case without being physically present.
According to the recent Enterprise Cloud Index Report, the Indian healthcare industry is increasing using public clouds, at a 13% penetration rate compared to the 12% global average. Apollo Hospitals uses an Azure cloud-based Prism system. While Fortis Healthcare has engaged IBM for their cloud services.
Shaking hands with Iot and Analytics
As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more widespread, a host of novel opportunities have arisen. Technologies like miniature wearable biosensors, along with advances in Big Data have opened the floodgates for eHealth and mHealth services that are more personalized and precise than ever before.
Wearables like fitness bands and other wirelessly connected devices like blood pressure and heart rate monitoring cuffs, and glucometers can help patients keep track of their health. This has a major impact on people living alone and their families. For instance, any disturbance or changes in the routine activities of a person is caught by the wearable and a signal is sent to family members and concerned health providers.
FitLinxx’s AmpStrip is a wireless sensor that continuously tracks the patient’s heart rate, body temperature, respiration rate, calories burned, and posture, even when the patient is asleep. There’s also ten3T’s real time, continuous health monitoring platform that is used by clinics and medical practitioners to track a patient’s health. It uses medical grade wearable devices along with cloud computing that allow physicians to make informed decisions faster.
Apart from monitoring patients’ health, IoT devices tagged with sensors are used for tracking real time location of medical equipment like wheelchairs, defibrillators, nebulizers, oxygen pumps and other monitoring equipment.
IoT has also made breakthroughs in the area of pharma packaging. For instance, with smart digital caps, the packaging can monitor the adherence and send reminders via an app to the patient or the caregiver based on the patient’s individual prescription. It can also stimulate daily use of vitamins or food supplements by light signals from the cap and activate automatic replenishment of product subscriptions or encourage communication between the user and the brand owner. Smart packaging also enables collection of patient usage data during clinical trials, which helps during the development of new drugs.
Rise in 3D Printing
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a technique that converts digital designs into solid three-dimensional objects. While this technology has been largely used in areas like automotive design, model building, and product prototyping, it is gradually making its presence felt in healthcare.
Dental laboratories are increasingly adopting 3D printing to increase scalability and precision in the manufacture of medical devices such as dentures. 3D printers are also used in the design and manufacture of hearing aids.
Another area where 3D printing is being used is in the fabrication of prosthetic limbs. Manufacturers fabricate custom sockets that are not only soft and offer a perfect fit, but can also be made quickly and at a more affordable cost.
Human tissue regeneration called bio-printing is an offshoot of 3D printing which is being explored. It allows scientists and researchers to build a human organ, layer by layer, with tiny building blocks composed of living cells, using scanners and printers traditionally reserved for prototyping.
Robotics in healthcare
Interestingly, the first use-case of deploying a robotic surgical assistant in India dates back to 1998, when a team of doctors from Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre (EHIRC) used a robotic arm to fix a hole in the patient’s heart.
Since then, robotics-assisted surgery has increased. The collaboration of IBM’s AI and cognitive powered bot Watson has turned out to be a resourceful tool for surgeons to gain deep insights. Since its launch in 2015, IBM has partnered with private medical institutes like Manipal Hospital to deploy the solutions.
ASIMOV Robotics provides Surgical Robots, Non/Minimally Invasive surgery Robotic Systems, Prosthetics and Exoskeletons, Healthcare robots which offer a smart and cost-effective solution for assistance and rehabilitation procedures for patients.
Data security in modern healthcare
According to reports, 80% of healthcare experts in India have exchanged patient data with other professionals inside their healthcare facility for the betterment of patients. This valuable data is prone to extortion through Ransomware. Hackers also target medical and IoT devices that provide, transmit and access confidential data because most manufacturers did not consider security when designing these devices. Since patient data is under threat, it is paramount for healthcare providers to have a robust and reliable information security service in place.
India is ushering in technological breakthroughs and the healthcare sector is one of the front runners. In an ever changing world of technology, the best strategy for a successful business is to innovate or adapt, learn new technologies and evolve. According to the Future Health Index (FHI) 2019 report, India is leading in the adoption of digital health technology. With an increasing number of public and private players jumping on to the bandwagon, it is only time when India will emerge as a global healthcare hub.
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