The past few years have seen the emergence of health-tech in the Indian healthcare sector. Driven by the adoption of new-age technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, health-tech is redefining the approach to delivery of healthcare services. From remote consultations to online delivery of medicines to predictive diagnostics, the healthcare industry has undergone a sea change. As a result, a lot of new start-ups have sprung up in the health-tech space, with focus on improving access to healthcare and critical care. As per market reports, the doctor to patient ratio in the allopathy sector stands at a dismal 1:1,596, significantly lower than the World Health Organisation’s standard of 1:1,400. Moreover, India is ranked 145 among 195 countries on the healthcare index.
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.
A look at some of the emerging technology trends in the healthcare sector, the growth in the health-tech space and the potential of electronic health records (EHRs) in digitalising the healthcare industry…
Emerging tech trends
IoT has the capability to revolutionise the delivery of healthcare services in India. The technology can be used to track the progression and treatment of diseases, monitor patients’ health and alter their medication accordingly, track medicine usage to ensure adherence to treatment plans, and provide real-time information on disease symptoms.
Another important application of IoT in healthcare is remote health monitoring. Under this, devices fitted with sensors notify the concerned healthcare providers whenever there is any change in the parameters of the vital organs of a person. These devices are capable of applying complex algorithms and analysing them rapidly to ensure that patients receive proper attention and timely treatment.
AI can potentially transform the approach to diagnosis thereby helping in curing even the most critical diseases early on. For instance, enterprises such as Max Healthcare are using IBM Watson for scanning cancer cells in patients at an early stage. Apart from this, AI can help address healthcare needs of people living in rural and remote areas. Owing to limitations arising out of geographical location, terrain, etc, there are a lot of areas in the country that don’t have access to even basic healthcare facilities. As such there is a lack of expert healthcare professionals in these areas. AI can fill this void by enabling faster and efficient healthcare delivery.
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 the 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, the 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.
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.
Budding start-up ecosystem
Indian start-ups are increasingly deploying innovative solutions to address some of the problems plaguing the healthcare sector. As per market reports, there are over 2,900 health-tech start-ups in India. From providing a platform for online consultation with doctors to facilitating hospital care at the doorstep of chronically ill patients, the new-generation start-ups are redefining service delivery, reducing diagnostic time and cutting down healthcare costs.
For instance, Qure.ai, an AI-driven start-up, uses deep-tech to enable faster and more effective diagnosis based on radiology, medical imaging and pathology reports. Qure.ai’s software tool can help in significantly reducing the time taken for diagnosing respiratory diseases and brain trauma. Apart from diagnostics, a lot of start-ups have sprung up in the telemedicine space. Prominent telemedicine start-ups in India include Practo, Mfine, Lybrate and DocsApp. These companies are redefining the doctor consultation scenario by providing an online platform where people can reach out to specialist doctors. This model has worked well in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, which mostly have a dearth of specialised doctors. Meanwhile, online pharmacy is yet another area that has drawn the attention of various entrepreneurs. Companies such as 1mg, PharmEasy, Netmeds, MyraMed and SastaSr provide online delivery of medicines to customers, thereby providing ease of access to patients who are unable to visit a pharmacy due to some limitation.
The healthcare market is expected to be worth $370 billion by 2022 and provide up to 35-40 per cent return on investments. This market growth is primarily expected to come from the health-tech space and the various start-ups operating within it. According to McKinsey Global Institute estimates, the digitalisation of India’s healthcare sector would create a potential value of at least $10 billion annually by 2025.
The significant growth in the health-tech space is indicative of the fact that there are several unresolved issues to be addressed in the Indian healthcare sector. While this presents a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to innovate and leverage technology to solve these issues, it also throws light on the fact that the government needs to get its act together and work out regulations that can promote the adoption of technologies on a much wider scale.
Tapping the potential of EHR
Going forward, the government needs to put increased thrust on digitalising the healthcare system. Of late, there has been a lot of talk around the need for adopting the EHR system at all Indian hospitals. EHR is a blockchain-driven technology that enables the storage of patient data in a secure manner. EHR puts the patient at the centre of the healthcare ecosystem while ensuring utmost security, privacy and interoperability of health data. Among various benefits, automation and streamlining of workflow are perhaps the biggest advantages of the EHR system. The availability of patients’ data and past medical history in a structured format can enable hospitals and doctors to do a more accurate diagnosis and provide better services.
In fact, the countrywide implementation of EHR would be required to effectively harness the potential of new-age technologies such as AI and IoT. In the healthcare sector, the majority of use cases of these technologies are centred on their ability to analyse data to offer preventive solutions.
However, the whole purpose of having these technologies will get defeated if relevant data is not collected and made available in time to doctors or hospitals.
So far, Kerala has become the only state in the country to have successfully collected and stored EHRs of 25.8 million people through its eHealth project. Since the majority of government hospitals and dispensaries have very little to negligible ICT infrastructure, the implementation of EHR systems across the length and breadth of the country is a challenge.
By Diksha Sharma