Healthcare is transforming during the COVID-19 pandemic. So everyone is wondering what will be the future of primary care? Will we see a rise in home-based health care? Whether we have to deal with infectious disease mitigation or mental health?
There is a renewed focus on startups looking to tackle the challenges of healthcare accessibility and effectiveness in this session of 100X.VC, the discussion panel talked about the emergence of AI, tele-health, medical devices, and women’s health.
First, let us know about the panelists:
Ramanathan V. is a practiced leader at Villgro. His career spreads over two and a half decades of operational and strategic leadership. He also has roles across high tech capital, medical equipment, innovative medical devices, commoditized medical consumables, competitive pharma products, and disruptive diagnostic services across diverse medical specialties.
Aditya Narayan Das, senior director at SAP India, has handled a variety of roles in the 20 years of his professional life. He has worked for a very long time in the insurance sector. Currently running SAP’s private equity program, including SAP labs and SAP startup connect in India, he has been engaging closely with a large number of private equity and venture capital funds.
Ankit Machhar, program head at NEN, leads the entrepreneurship ecosystem development vertical for NEN India. He works closely with top institutes, universities, and incubators across India intending to create high-value jobs by mainstreaming entrepreneurship and education.
Shashank Randev from 100X.VC questioned the panelists regarding the emerging health tech in 2020. Let us see what the panelists answered each of his questions.
Companies using AI to develop products for the healthcare market have seen a rise. What can be observed from this?
The way Ramanathan sees this is that AI does not exist independently. It requires data on one side and a large problem to solve on the other side. Now, if you get to look at data, the availability of structured, clean data is one of the prerequisites for AI. There have been some concerns regarding this. But digitization across the health delivery is something that we have seen. Digital health is getting augmented, and things are speeding up.
With the pandemic going on, we have seen that the flip for the digitization is on. So that is not only going to build access to the digitization that we are going to achieve, it is also going to create that load of data on which the AI will be fed on.
Aditya also agrees with Ramanathan. He thinks that if we look at it from the technology perspective, AI has been in the foreplay wherever there has been a lot of unorganized data that needs to be made sense of. And healthcare has been one of the areas where the data is in a very messy state because that is the way it has evolved over a while. But AI has now allowed making a lot of sense of that unorganized data, therefore bringing efficiency. The interesting thing is that the efficiencies can now be explored along three dimensions.
From a clinical diagnosis and treatment point of view, there is a huge amount of efficiency that can be brought in. Especially in a country like India, where the per capita doctor is so less, you can use AI to simplify the amount of human-doctor intervention. It can simplify the process of diagnosis and treatment. This will work to significantly scale rural medical access. In terms of the entire insurance ecosystem, also, efficiency can be seen coming. A lot of the costs of delay in insurance comes to the medical ecosystem indirectly. The third thing is in terms of government. In a country like India, there is a lot of intent on the government today to do large healthcare projects. The full accessibility to data and AI can together make a lot of sharp programs to be more effective in specific segments. So these are the three things that are going to be the significant drivers for AI, especially in healthcare.
What kind of solutions or products can be seen where AI is levied?
According to Ankit, considering the startups, one of the things that are very prominent today is that customers today are ready to premium on trustworthiness and reliability. With more and more non-critical healthcare services getting out of the hospitals, home health services are emerging. A lot of the healthcare workers who are dependent on the expertise of doctors will now need artificial intelligence, data analytics, and connected devices to work together. This is to help them operate in remote places and give people telemedicine and home healthcare. So this is a very interesting area for startups now to combine IoT devices and AI to work on healthcare services that are needed at your doorstep. More importantly, it will provide reliable and trustworthy solutions.
How has this pandemic accelerated the process of tele-health?
Ramanathan looked at tele-medicine in December 2019; no one was interested in it. But within a couple of weeks of the pandemic, we had a policy that enabled tele-medicine to gain popularity. Previously, there were a lot of grey areas around it but now they have been taken away. We can see a tremendous amount of adoption. It is a circumstantial and environmental thing. On one side, patients could not visit the hospital even if it was an important conversation with the physician. And from the hospitals’ point of view, they were crumpled to adapt to tele-medicine. So, the pandemic has been a big bonus for tele-medicine.
How is tele-health emerging as a stand-alone basis and from a wide label collaboration perspective?
Aditya answered this question from two perspectives. From an ecosystem perspective, tele-health is an evolved ecosystem globally. Looking at companies like Capita, they have got the entire software and a platform with the capability to practice remote health for all non-acute and non-emergency situations. But a good part of that capita capability is delivered out of India. This is because the clinical experience of the entire platform treating patients has worked perfectly in places such as Ghana. So the applicability in an Indian setup is better than most countries.
With COVID-19, it is just a matter of time that the investments in health tech start flowing in. People will leverage the platform of capita, and other competitors will start offering it very quickly because this is a huge opportunity. So, it does not matter whether it is driven by the hospitals or the government. Interestingly, one of the first takers that were trying to bring the capita to India even before COVID-19 were the insurance companies. They interested the people living in remote areas by offering health tech.
So whatever we have seen in health tech is just the tip of an iceberg, a huge explosion is going to happen soon.
Have there been any changes in health tech in India in the past few years?
In the last few years, there has been a consistent growth all over in health tech. There are a lot of exciting things coming in, such as innovative solutions. Specialty care, which was only in the metro sites, can now be found in the remote places also. Today, diagnosing an ultra sonogram, a CT scan, or an MRI is possible even in remote places through connectivity. So, now is the best time to start your career in health tech.
How will the clinics and hospitals change over the next couple of months?
Ramakrishna does not expect many changes in in-patient services. The surgeries and the patient will continue the same model. But there will be changes to the out-patient department. We have already seen 70% of the OPD transfer to tele-medicine. We have also seen some of the large corporations embracing tele-medicine as a solution. So, over a period of time, we will also get into vibrant home care, and OPDs will be cleaned out, particularly in the metro cities and large hospitals.
Asking the same question to Aditya, he sees a hub and spoke model evolving. We are aware that a lot of the large hospital chains have already started experimenting with the neighborhood clinics. Secondly, he expected a lot of tele-medicine being leveraged across this hub and spoke model of clinics and sub clinics. He further adds that even in in-patient departments, we will start seeing some robotic enabled minimal invasive surgery flowing down to the clinic levels.
Health tech landscape post-COVID-19
Governmental and private spending will increase in healthcare. The trend of digitization, percolating down to home care, and diagnostics is also expected to gain popularity. Moreover, investment in research and development startups will rise. COVID-19 is an ample opportunity for healthcare startups to research pharma, generic drugs, healthcare, technology, etc. If efforts are made, India can become a leader in health tech globally.
So startups should start building relationships with the community, public sector, and social communities because this is the right time to develop and build trust. In addition to this, work more on speed, cost, and accuracy to get the maximum benefit.