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Metamorphosis of healthcare is the need of the hour, startups driving this change

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Technology-driven innovation across diagnosis, process, and delivery can help to improve access and affordability. Also, it will enable the shift of healthcare from the hospital to clinics, from clinics to home, with round the clock access to experts – a journey that has already commenced, thanks to health-tech start ups, analyses Ratna Mehta, Executive Vice President, Wadhwani Catalyst Fund, Wadhwani Foundation

 India is the diabetes capital of the world, with ~73 million cases and growing at a whopping rate. A study by the American Diabetes Association reports that India will see the greatest increase in people diagnosed with diabetes by 2030. India has the third-highest number of cancer cases in the world – over 16 lakh Indians are diagnosed annually, with a 50 per cent mortality rate. And if that was not it, India has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.

In spite of such high disease burden, India has one of the lowest public spends on healthcare and low insurance presentation, resulting in poor infrastructure and inadequate access.

Traditional business models have not been able to penetrate significantly due to high capex and high operational cost. Also, there is massive demand-supply gap of skilled resources beyond a few cities.                                                                    

But as they say, “Out of adversity, comes opportunity”.

Technology-driven innovation across diagnosis, process, and delivery can help to improve access and affordability. Also, it will enable the shift of healthcare from the hospital to clinics, from clinics to home, with round the clock access to experts – a journey that has already commenced.

With about 74 per cent of the doctors concentrated in urban areas, access to basic primary healthcare is a substantial issue in semi-urban and rural areas. Telemedicine, born out of this necessity, has the ability to penetrate remote regions and deliver basic healthcare to every person. Within telemedicine, models vary from completely online to blended models. Medcords, a rural telemedicine platform, is providing teleconsultation online by digitising medical records through the pharmacy network. Another rural-focused player Karma Healthcare is following a hub and spoke model, with their hubs assisted by nurses who enable teleconsultation with expert doctors.

Glocal is a tech-based platform that brings healthcare access to the rural population through an integrated model of comprehensive primary and secondary care hospitals, digital dispensaries and technology. It currently runs 141 digital dispensaries across Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and some of the eastern states. Glocal’s hospitals are designed like lego pieces and have 100 beds each, along with state-of-the-art equipment. It has standardised protocols for 38 ailments which cover 91 per cent of illnesses or conditions.

 AI is helping to interpret patient data to improve diagnosis and provide more focused treatment. AI-driven microscopes aid faster and more accurate detection of blood cells, allowing for 95 per cent accuracy. A Bangalore based startup, Qure.AI uses AI and deep learning algorithms to identify abnormalities in scans, thus improving the precision and speed of disease detection. AI is also helping detect cancer – a women health-focused startup, Niramai, has developed technology to detect breast cancer by a simple reading of the patient’s body temperature.

 Business model innovation like the ‘hub and spoke’ model helps increases access to important medical facilities as well as ensures operational efficiency and reduces costs. Tata Memorial Centre, India’s premier cancer institute, aims to set up around 30 hubs and 100 spokes across the country to improve access to affordable cancer treatment. Every hub is expected to cater to ~40,000 new patients p.a., while spokes are expected to manage ~8,000 new patients. The objective is to increase reach to cover over 40 million people via hubs and between 5-10 million people via spokes.

 The emergence of online pharmacies over the last five years has helped to improve access and affordability to medicines. With analytics-driven inventory management, the fill rates are high. Further, higher volumes are enabling better rates to patients, and tech-enabled supply chain is driving faster deliveries. This helps to bring down non-adherence rates which are as high as 24 per cent for cardiac and 50-80 per cent for hypertension as per AIIMS. 1 MG, Pharmeasy and Netmeds are large players in this space, which backed by deep-pocketed investors, are expanding their network across the country. Separately, there are niche omni-channel players like Daawa Dost, which are emerging and likely to co-exist with these large players if they can carve out a niche for themselves in the medicine delivery space.

 This is truly the beginning of a revolution in the healthcare delivery space, and currently, we are just witnessing the early shoots of this journey.

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