From promise to fulfilment: Healthcare startups will build internet of medical things in India

Written by Himani Rathore

Robot wearing a VR set

September 14, 2021 | Aman Gupta and Christina A. D’souza in The Daily Guardian

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare was one of the most critical issues in India, from both access and cost viewpoints. Having limited resources means doing more with less, and nothing enables that better than technology. In the last 18 months, the emergence of healthcare and health-tech startups has demonstrated that admirably.

Here is the scale of the challenge in healthcare: India’s allopathic doctor-to-patient ratio is 1:1596, compared to the WHO standard of 1:1000. India is ranked 145 out of 195 countries on the Health Access and Quality (HAQ) index, a global metric created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA.  

At the same time, in June 2021, India had 5,705 startups that focus on healthcare, according to Traxcn, a research firm that tracks technology investments. According to the same firm, investment in India’s health-tech sector from 2014 amounts to roughly $3.4 billion.

As our 2020 report “Igniting Startups with Investor Insights”–that we wrote in partnership with KPMG–said, health and technology would be the fastest growing sectors that startups and private equity investors would be betting on.

SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE

India’s health-tech universe is a widely varying one, and experts identify several areas. Most, however, are concentrated in a limited group: telemedicine, online pharmacies, homecare, and diagnostics. In other words, they focus on improving access and care.

Telemedicine was one of the areas where the impact of health-tech was most visibly felt during the pandemic. A report by IAMAI-PRAXIS found that telephonic and video consultations with doctors went up by 300% during the pandemic (still ongoing). Orders from e-pharmacies went up 200%, mostly from patients with chronic conditions.

Apollo Health, a healthcare player with a large presence, has set up teleclinic centres in rural locations; video chat technologies allow patients to consult doctors directly. But several health-tech companies offer more than just teleconsultations. Consider Practo, that helped to create scale in direct-to-patient, app-based solutions. This startup offers a whole package of services that includes insurance claims filing, electronic health records, and even links patients to a network of doctors and hospitals.

Other health-tech startups that enable more efficient doctor-patient consultations include Lybrate, DocsApp, and MFine. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by 2025, telemedicine will account for half of all patient-doctor consultations in India. There’s a bonus: it will save $4 to $5 billion in costs since telemedicine visits are 30% cheaper.

Access to medicines has been another challenge. According to a 2018 report from Research and Markets, a market intelligence provider, India’s 850,000 retail pharmacies are still only able to meet 60% of total demand. Firms like 1mg, PharmEasy, Netmeds, Medlife, etc., have emerged to address that gap. 

FROM HEALTH-TECH TO DEEPTECH

In recent years, people have started paying greater and more regular attention to personal health management. Health tracking apps like Maya and PregBuddy, for example, help women monitor their periods and their conditions during pregnancy.

Many fitness and nutrition startups have emerged as wellness gained importance. Fitternity, Cure.fit, HealthifyMe, GoQii, and HealthKart are among the prominent ones. There are several business models, for example, GoQii has a wearable device with remote trainers. Yourdost and InnerHour focus on mental wellbeing.

The home healthcare segment continues to evolve, from simple testing, taking care of the elderly, cancer support, pathology sample collection–many remember the flurry of RT-PCR testing at home during the pandemic–to physiotherapy and home nursing.

More than 75% of all clinical decisions depend on diagnostics, so it is only natural that health-tech goes there too.

This is where artificial intelligence and data analytic—the high-tech end of health-tech—come in. Qure.ai, NIRAMAI Health Analytix, and SigTuple enable faster, better diagnosis, using deeptech to analyse radiology, pathology, and medical imaging reports. 

Some innovations address indirect health issues. The BabyLabel LLP, for example, makes CO2Care, which are small canisters to be placed in any masks to protect against airborne virus infections like Covid-19. These canisters have the material in them that absorbs CO2. It addresses concerns over CO2 buildup in masks worn for extended periods. Research indicates that increased CO2 concentration could result in people suffering from fatigue, headaches, and a loss of concentration. 

There are other areas in which health-tech startups become deeptech or IP-driven, innovator firms: medical devices, biotech R&D, biopharma, healthcare IT services, even genomics. The possibilities seem almost endless, integrating healthcare and technology to make the extraordinary possible. 

FUTURE OF HEALTH-TECH IN INDIA

Viewed in terms of size, the market for healthcare technology does not seem impressive, at an estimated $2 billion or roughly Rs 15,000 crore. That’s less than 1% of the overall healthcare market which according to many analysts, will be $372 billion in 2025.

But it’s the impact that healthcare startups and health-tech will create that matters. Health-tech is expected to grow at 39% on a compounded annual growth rate and create 40 million new jobs by 2030. The government has introduced several elements of a national digital health ecosystem that, when it all comes together, will have exponential network effects. 

In July 2015, while launching the Digital India Initiative, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “I dream of a Digital India where quality healthcare percolates right up to the remotest regions powered by e-healthcare.” Health-tech startups will reshape how healthcare is delivered in the next decade and make the realisation of that vision possible.

Health-tech is expected to grow at 39% on a compounded annual growth rate and create 40 million new jobs by 2030. The government has introduced several elements of a national digital health ecosystem that, when it all comes together, will have exponential network effects.

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