Digital healthcare has emerged as the talk of the sector. Ever since the pandemic, hospitals and healthcare practitioners have started using new age technologies to better monitor the health of their patients and deliver optimum care. To­wards this end, technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) have made inroads into the sector. The digital healthcare market includes different segments such as mHe­al­th, tele-health, EHRs (electronic health records), remote diagnostics and healthcare analytics. According to the India

Bra­­nd Equity Foundation, mHealth is expected to dominate the market with a 40 per cent share by 2024, with tele-health in the second place. This will be fuelled by the rising demand for health and fitness apps to monitor daily activities.

Another key development dominating the space is the emergence of start-ups in the healthtech space. In the past couple of years, India has seen a massive surge in the number of healthtech start-ups that have come into existence. Consequently, the sector is attracting big money from inves­tors globally.

A look at some of the recent investm­e­nt inflows into the sector, key tech trends dominating the healthcare space and the way forward….

Investment influx

Start-ups in the healthtech space gained prominence in 2021 as they made concrete efforts to bring about innovations in the sector. Online pharmacy was one such area that attracted significant attention from both consumers as well as investors. On­line pharmacy cornered $726 million, or 33 per cent of the total funding that the health­tech sector attracted in 2021. Amo­ng various deals in the sector, PharmEasy raised $1.04 billion in three funding rounds and Star Health raised $164 million in an equ­ity round during 2021.

Online pharmacy was closely followed by other sub-sectors in terms of funding influx. Healthcare analytics attracted $454 million (20.6 per cent), followed by fitness and wellness at $422 million (19.2 per ce­nt). Meanwhile, MedTech received $256 mi­llion in funding.

As per the Inc42 data, the healthtech sector received $2.2 billion funding across 131 deals in 2021. Moreover, the health­tech space launched four unicorns during the year. Further, there were 3,548 active start-ups in the healthtech space in 2021, accounting for 8.9 per cent of the start-up world that comprises 39,960 companies.

Key tech trends in the healthcare space

Digital therapeutics

DTx (digital therapeutics) is an up and emerging trend in the healthcare industry, which entails delivery of medical care and evidence-based therapeutics interventions directly to patients driven by high-quality software programmes. This allows physicians to make an informed selection of the right solution for patie­nts’ problems. As digital data is continuously generated and tracked, it also helps overcome the issue of non-adherence in chronic diseases, helping improve treatment outcomes.

Remote patient monitoring

Remote patient monitoring has gained immense popularity in recent times, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pande­mic, when people had to follow movement restrictions and social distancing norms. Remote patient monitoring entails the delivery of healthcare services to patients by providing them with an array of medical devices such as implantables, blood pressure cuffs and sensors, among others. Doctors can then monitor the health of their patients by studying the data from these devices on a real-time basis. It is commonly recommended for discharged patients as it enables doctors to consistently monitor their patients and act on vital data, which further reduces frequent visits of patients to doctors and expedites the recovery process. In addition, it allows doctors to move away from traditional healthcare settings and deliver high-quality healthcare without meeting their patients.

Smart wearables and devices

Wearable technology is the new buzzword in the healthcare industry. These devices allow patients to play a more active role in maintaining their health. With the help of wearable devices, patients can regularly tra­ck their vitals such as heart rate, blood pressure, etc. The data mined from wearables is more systematic and accurate in recording all medical details and vitals of the patient. As such, doctors can also use this data to craft customised healthcare plans. The market of smart devices inclu­d­es fitness bands, smartwatches, smart inha­lers, smart hearing aids, sleep bands, bio patches, etc.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine enables patients in remote locations to easily access and obtain any kind of clinical services. Further, telemedicine technologies allow specialised professionals in urban locations to provide emergency and intensive care services to hospitals in rural areas. These technologies also make it possible to monitor pati­ent health remotely by collecting and sending medical data through electronic means for immediate interpretation. The proliferation of smartphones in rural areas has enhanced the scope of using telemedicine services for improving the public healthcare scenario in the country. In fact, telemedicine is one of the fastest growing segments in the healthcare space and can help overcome challenges associated with access, cost and quality of healthcare services. While major hospitals such as AIIMS and Apollo have al­ready adopted telemedicine services, oth­er players too are following suit.

Digital health records

Digital prescription is transforming the healthcare landscape by creating digital he­al­th records of patients. This, in turn, im­p­roves patient outcomes as it reduces the ch­an­ces of human error. The year 2022 is ex­pected to witness a steep surge in the use of electronic prescriptions with the idea of reduced paperwork and longe­vity in storage.

IoMT

The internet of medical things (IoMT) is enhancing operational and clinical efficiencies and revolutionising the delivery of healthcare services in India. With the help of IoMT, professionals are able to track the progression and treatment of diseases, monitor patient health and alter their medication accordingly. Further, this en­ables professionals to track patients’ medicine usage and ensure adherence to treatment plans and provides real-time information on disease symptoms.

AR/VR

Augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) can significantly enhance the delivery quality of tele-health. These technologies have been a big help for the sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. From enhancing patient and provider visits to helping educate medical students through procedure simulations, AR/VR has been turning science fiction into reality.

AI

AI helps in creating a personalised enviro­nment for both patients and healthcare service providers. It is transforming the approach to diagnosis and paving the way for faster and more precise methods of conducting surgeries. Further, the Covid-induced need for touch-free interactions has the potential to boost the clinical up­take of the natural language processing, a branch of AI that allows computers to un­derstand spoken remarks. Meanwhile, automated services such as symptom-checking chatbots will continue to ease administrative bottlenecks.

Blockchain

Blockchain can potentially drive a massive breakthrough in the healthcare ecosystem by revamping the healthcare management of patients. Since this technology puts the control of data in the hands of patients, it is expected to improve patient care quality significantly. Further, all challenges and roadblocks that are encountered in multiple-level authentication can be eliminated through blockchain; this would enable smooth sharing of data among providers of healthcare solutions. This, in turn, would lead to accuracy in diagnosis, resulting in effective treatment. Moreover, the deployment of blockchain across the healthcare ecosystem can enable multiple entities to stay in sync and share data on a commonly distributed ledger. With such a system in place, stakeholders can share and keep track of their data and other activities happening in the system, without having to look for additional solutions for ensuring integrity and security.

The way forward

As we move towards the era of IoT, AI and cloud technologies, ICT-enabled connectivity would play a pivotal role in catapulting India’s healthcare sector into an integrated, efficient and patient-centric space. This will help in shifting the current focus from curative care to value-based care, the­reby promoting wellness and well-being. The digital health market is also expected to record a massive spike on both demand and supply sides of the ecosystem. Going forward, focus on making technology-enabled healthcare eco­sys­tem the backbone for healthcare services will benefit India in solving several existing challenges.

Diksha Sharma