The pandemic has given a panoramic view of inadequacies in the Indian healthcare sector

UPES School of Health Sciences & Technology recently signed an exclusive partnership with Wipro GE Healthcare to jointly launched the B.Tech Biomedical Engineering program at UPES, Dehradun. Prof Smriti Arora, Assistant Professor, UPES School of Health Sciences and Technology in an interaction with Kalyani Sharma talks about this collaboration and its key objectives

What are the major highlights of this exclusive partnership between UPES and GE Healthcare?

This exclusive partnership provides solutions to existing challenges that biomedical engineers face:

Lack of infrastructure and hands on experience to be industry ready professionals: A ‘UPES X GE centre of excellence’ has been set up by GE Healthcare at the UPES campus. There will be intense training on diagnostic devices such as X-rays, CT/MRI images, ventilators, anaesthesia, and ECG machines will be rendered jointly by experts at UPES and from GE Healthcare. Students can operate/fix technical errors and also set parameters relevant to the human body.

Landing the first internship: The first internship is the hardest to find, and that has been a key challenge in the past for biomedical engineers based on reviews. This collaboration provides a one-month internship to all incoming biomedical engineers in the 7th semester at GE Healthcare’s The John F. Welch Technology Centre, Bengaluru, besides the hands-on training at the centre of excellence at UPES. GE Healthcare will also interview few with exceptional candidature as potential employees.

Bring out specialised biomedical engineers: The joint B. Tech UPES-GE biomedical engineering program has its curriculum benchmarked against international universities Harvard, Stanford, Michigan Tech, and several Indian IITs. The curriculum is a blend of core engineering courses, computer science, elements of design, and courses in biology. Minors are offered where students can specialise in one of the three branches: Engineering assisted design of medical devices, medical robots, and Industrial design and ergonomics. These specialisations overcome the ‘jack of trades and master of none’ stigma associated with existing biomedical curricula.

What do you aim to achieve with this partnership? What is the objective behind this collaboration?

UPES has ensured experiential learning to raise industry-ready professionals. The collaboration tends to do the same as the medical device industry is envisioned as a sunrise sector endorsed by several schemes under the honourable Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India campaign.’ MedTech parks have been launched in several states, including one in Noida, Andhra Pradesh, and Chennai, with one due in Nalagarh in Himachal Pradesh. India stands in the fourth spot in Asia and amongst the top 20 in the world as a medical device market. And with this, jobs in the medical device sector are on the rise. While one aim is to meet this increasing demand for biomedical engineers; the other is since GE Healthcare is one of the biggest medical device companies with a focus on research, the students would get an opportunity to align projects with the vision of the company and work with them to meet unmet medical needs. In India, industry and academia run in isolation; this collaboration would seal this gap with both teaching and research being conducted jointly by academicians and industry experts.

The collaboration also intends to promote entrepreneurship in the country using incubator set up at various universities, such as the runway incubator at UPES. This would promote R&D and manufacture of medical devices in India, paving the way towards building a more self-reliant India.

The pandemic has highlighted the crucial role of R&D and industry-academia collaboration. Which all parameters need attention to strengthen this? Can you highlight the same?

The pandemic has indeed given a panoramic view of inadequacies in the Indian healthcare sector. Insufficiency of clinicians, biomedical engineers, and medical devices such as medically equipped ambulances, respirators, ventilators, ergonomic patient beds, MRI/CT, X-ray, RT-PCR to calculate viral loads and experts to deal with and retrieve data from these devices was unearthed. India imports medical devices such as ventilators, oxygen cylinders, air purifiers, etc. India is the largest importer of medical devices and medical electrical equipment, with 86 per cent of devices being imported. Another huge revelation was that of educational institutions and industries working in isolation. Indian academia was unaware of the needs of industry and vice versa. In terms of healthcare, a lot of unlearning and learning was expected. An upskilling of life science professionals with the knowledge and use of diagnostic devices such as MRI/CT scans, X-rays, and ventilators was expected by the industry, hospitals, and even households. As a country of billions and fear of the pandemic still looming large, we need to be future-ready and build institutions or strengthen institutions that hold industry accountability, embed industry early and often, and create value-based education.

With the digitalisation of healthcare, demand for skilled professionals who can run these platforms is also rising and an unanswered bell. Some organisations, such as NITI Aayog, are trying to bridge the industry-academia gap, but the opportunities for public-private partnerships are still few. To summarise, for upskilling of the workforce to the needs of industry, more industry-academia connect, in particular medtech companies, hospitals, and NGOs need to work in concert to work on the five A’s that define challenges to healthcare in India – awareness or the lack of it (education in particular in health science and allied courses), access or lack of it (rural versus urban healthcare reach differs), absence of skilled workforce during a crisis, affordability of healthcare, and accountability (of each of these partners).

What are the major challenges and opportunities as far as scaling up the level of skill development in healthcare in India is concerned?

As mentioned, the five challenges to Indian healthcare are awareness or the lack of it, access to the lack of it, absence of skilled workforce during a crisis, affordability of healthcare across India, and accountability. The same are also opportunities to work on and build a healthier India or at least a country with better healthcare infrastructure.

Some more challenges are:

  • Lack of knowledge about Indian healthcare regulations.
  • Significant medtech device imports into the Indian market, resulting in no upskilling or R&D in India.
  • Fewer government programs and funding opportunities for private institutions related to healthcare. Healthcare is integrated with other schemes such as Make in India and Ayushman Bharat, and there are no separate schemes for the healthcare sector.

Some of these challenges can be turned into following opportunities:

  • Economic freedom to institutions that provide healthcare courses
  • Increase in the availability of expert healthcare professionals
  • Government’s accountability and thrust on research and development in the country in both public and private setups.

What is the need to upgrade India’s medical education with advanced training programmes to meet the growing needs of the healthcare industry?

The following areas require upgradation to improve Indian healthcare:

Skill development: Skill development training/upskilling must be done as per the industry’s demands. The areas that need to be worked on include clinical research, drug delivery, Six Sigma technique in medtech, regulatory science, AI/ML in healthcare, biodata analytics and predictive analysis, and intellectual property rights, which are industry relevant and can boost the employment and start-up environment in India.

Launch of interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary schools and programs: Healthcare is no longer about the mixing of compounds. It requires interdisciplinary faculty and training from science, engineering, and business who can work together on same platform and deliver affordable products to the market.

Industry-academia partnership: A strong industry-academia connect will help students work on real-world problems. The fund flow from the industry would be smooth as academia would work on industry-related problems, and students would get exposure to the technologies that are much in demand.

GE Healthcarepartnershipskill developmentUPES
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