Mumbai: India’s healthcare technology sector is witnessing steady expansion due to the increasing adoption of digital technologies, rising healthcare spending, government initiatives, and growing demand for quality healthcare products. The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated the adoption of healthcare technology solutions in India.
The nation has seen the emergence of numerous health technology startups offering innovative solutions across various segments of healthcare. These startups are developing technologies based on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the Internet of Things (IoT), and data analytics to provide the best offering that will help people build healthy life. Earlier people use to think of health or checking up on themselves only when they were sick or when they had a serious problem to take reactive measures but India’s healthcare industry is growing at a rapid pace.
Post-COVID-19 people want to know what is happening within their bodies and want to adopt healthier lifestyles not just based on symptoms but based on actual data, deeper insights. Overall pandemic has instilled a trend to adapt to new technological developments to live a holistic healthy lifestyle. On National Technology Day, ETHealthworld interacted with some experts from the health sector to gain insights into the role of technology in improving clinical outcomes and bettering patient experiences.
Role of technology in the pharmaceutical industry
Recent advancements in technology have altered the face of the pharmaceutical industry in India – right from assisting in consultation and diagnosis, to drug development, and even surgery.
Increased internet penetration and smartphone usage in the past few years catalysed by the pandemic has led to the proliferation of e-pharmacies and triggered a shift towards the digital purchase of medicines. Shantanu Mukherjee, Founder, roninlegal.in, said, “The nature of services offered by e-pharmacies requires the collection of vast amounts of patient data, which in turn provides increased visibility into the supply chain. This allows companies to track which products are being purchased right down to the consumer level and enables them to respond to supply needs more efficiently.”
“Another contribution of technology has been in implementing ‘track and trace’, which involves assigning a unique 2D bar code number to each vial or medicine box that can be traced to the exact batch and carton of manufacture. This helps to improve transparency and traceability in the supply chain, reduces the risk of counterfeit medicines and improves patient safety,” added Mukherjee.
AI has also penetrated the drug discovery and development process by identifying disease progression models, assisting in quality management, forecasting, analysing vast amounts of data, and providing critical insights to improve the design and development process. By adopting AI as a solution, pharmaceutical companies can reduce cost and human errors, while accelerating the drug development process.
“There is no doubt that the influx of cutting-edge technology has revolutionised the course of the pharmaceutical industry. It has extensively transformed the way R&D is conducted in the pharma sector with the use of advanced technologies and progressive methods. Innovative futuristic techniques like bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and various screening methods have enabled a platform where potential drugs can be identified with greater accuracy and a much faster pace, resulting in reduced costs and the rapid emergence of new medicines in the market. Integration of technology with the pharmaceutical industry has significantly streamlined the manufacturing process with increased automation and sophisticated machinery, cost-cutting the requirement of manual labour. The impact of technology has not been limited to this, advances in nanotechnology and biotechnology have provided efficient drug delivery systems and formulations, ultimately leading to better patent outcomes,” added Chander Shekhar Sibal, Senior Vice President, Fujifilm India Pvt Ltd.
Furthermore, the emergence and utilisation of advanced analytical techniques like mass spectrometry, chromatography, and NMR spectroscopy have aided enhanced methods of detecting impurities and maintaining the standard of the drugs. Additionally, digital technologies like barcodes have enabled a systematic tracking system that allows an effective flow of the supply chain, giving more control over the distribution process.
Healthcare technology challenges
In the realm of healthcare, ensuring the security of patient health data is of utmost importance. Robust measures must be taken to maintain confidentiality and protect sensitive information. Encryption standards play a crucial role in safeguarding data, and comprehensive data protection measures should be implemented to mitigate security risks.
The health-tech industry in India can be broadly broken down into various segments such as preventative, hardware, diagnosis, finance, treatment, care, research, and supply. While the health-tech industry has seen explosive growth in the past few years, it also faces several challenges.
Multiple challenges pose interruptions in the implementation of technology-driven healthcare services. Sibal, commented, “The first and foremost challenge that the healthcare technology industry faces is the deficit of skilled support manpower who can reduce the pressure on doctors. Since technology is rapidly evolving, it becomes imperative that the workforce involved in the operations of medical technology is updated about the changing innovations in this field. There is a dire need for constant skill upgradation so that more skilled support manpower is at the forefront of handling technological advancements. Other than this, the lack of hardware availability in India pushes the manufacturers to import more which ultimately affects the entire supply chain of healthcare technologies. In addition to these challenges, limited internet bandwidth is another challenge that this industry frequently encounters. Therefore, the expansion of necessary bandwidth and robust Internet facility is extremely essential to provide access to even remote areas.”
Adding to Sibal’s viewpoint, Mukherjee added, “One of the biggest challenges faced by health-tech companies in India is funding – due to the high costs associated with research and development, and the uncertainty of its success. In addition, India is a price-conscious and out-of-pocket market, meaning that unlike most of the West, healthcare in India is not always covered by insurance. Purchase of health-tech devices such as sensors and wearables have to be purchased out of one’s pocket, which puts margin pressure on health-tech companies thereby further limiting their resources, and increasing competition. This requires health-tech companies to churn out products quickly to stay ahead of their competition, while navigating through the uncertain regulatory environments in India, particularly concerning e-pharmacies and wearables. Another hurdle faced by health-tech start-ups in India is the lack of actionable accessible data – making it difficult to improve or develop new products that rely solely on data insights.”
Sharing his views on the challenges, Nikkhil K Masurkar, CEO, Entod Pharmaceuticals stated, “Integrating new technologies into existing healthcare systems can present challenges, particularly when dealing with legacy systems and devices. Compatibility issues may arise, leading to complexities in infrastructure and increased costs associated with integration and maintenance. Striving for cost effectiveness while ensuring seamless integration becomes a key consideration for healthcare organisations.”
“Data privacy and regulations pose additional hurdles for the healthcare industry. Compliance with privacy laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), is essential. These regulations impose restrictions on data sharing and require secure communication channels, creating complexity in adopting new technologies and adhering to diverse data protection requirements,” added Masurkar.
“The market awareness that each and everything that we do from what you eat daily, sleep time, fitness regime, stress levels, etc affects your vitals and inner health on an hourly basis and keeping a check on it proactively than being reactive, to spread awareness on this is a challenge the preventive healthcare technology industry is facing. The second challenge would be the manufacturing of devices in India. As we want to build world-class products to be proudly Made in India, the current manufacturing has been accustomed to basic device design manufacturing for example a rectangular or square box is easier to make than something very sleek, a world-class design and that looks very attractive with an eye to detail. However, the device manufacturing sector too is growing and evolving to meet the increasing demand & quality. Overall, lack of awareness, low digital literacy, and manufacturing of devices are barriers to the widespread adoption of healthcare technologies,” stated Sunil Maddikatla, Founder & CEO, BlueSemi.
User experience also plays a significant role in the adoption of healthcare technologies. Healthcare professionals may resist adopting new solutions if they disrupt established methods or prove cumbersome to use. Therefore, the focus of new technologies should be on providing a simple and efficient user experience to facilitate higher adoption rates and enhance overall satisfaction among healthcare providers.
Addressing these challenges is crucial for advancing technology within the healthcare system. By effectively addressing issues related to data security, integration, data privacy, user experience, and high-performance solutions, the healthcare industry can improve patient care, protect sensitive information, and enhance overall efficiency in delivering healthcare services.
Indian startups developing innovative tech-solutions
Indian start-ups in the health-tech space have been developing a range of innovative solutions to transform the sector. Companies sell smart wearables capable of mapping essential biomarkers like heart rate, oxygen levels, sleep, stress, etc. ImmunoACT, Immuneel, and Zumutor are developing alternative therapies such as CAR-T and NK Cell Therapy for the treatment of cancer. The healthcare segment has AI-driven remote patient monitoring platform which also provides ‘early warning sign’ (EWS) services. AI-driven solution provider focused on providing radiology and disease management services.
Also, the initiation of the Start-up India programme in 2016 has fostered the emergence of numerous healthcare startups, taking full advantage of the conducive environment for innovation. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has played a pivotal role in supporting the growth of healthcare startups by implementing various initiatives to enhance access to affordable and high-quality care, reduce the burden of diseases, and monitor health benefits for citizens.
Indian startups in the healthcare technology space are developing a range of innovative solutions to address some of the key challenges facing the industry. “One area of focus is digital health platforms, which are being used to connect patients with doctors and other healthcare providers. These platforms use a range of technologies, including telemedicine, chatbots, and machine learning, to improve the patient experience and enable more efficient and effective healthcare delivery,” said Vikram Thaploo, CEO- Telehealth, Apollo Hospitals Enterprises Limited
“Another area of innovation is in medical devices and diagnostics, where startups are developing a range of new technologies, including wearable sensors, portable diagnostic tools, and point-of-care testing devices. These solutions are aimed at improving the accuracy and speed of diagnosis, as well as enabling patients to monitor their health more effectively,” added Thaploo.
Masurkar shared, “Startups have become a driving force in India’s healthcare sector, introducing groundbreaking innovations in medical products and services, while contributing to economic growth, research advancements, innovation, and job creation. Their focus is on addressing specific challenges and bridging gaps within the Indian healthcare system through the development of technology-driven solutions.”
In addition to addressing cost-related issues, such as the distance to major hospitals, fragmented healthcare infrastructure in smaller towns, and underutilisation of surgical resources, new-age healthcare providers are revolutionising surgical care, potentially reducing costs.
Healthtech startups are also leveraging digitisation, electronic medical records (EMR), data mining, and data analytics to improve accuracy and patient outcomes. By digitising health records and analyzing clinical data, healthcare providers gain valuable insights that inform their decision-making process, leading to more precise diagnoses and timely treatments. Embracing cutting-edge technologies like cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI), they are reshaping traditional healthcare practices and integrating them with modern technologies.
For patients, these startups offer a range of convenient services such as online diagnostic tests, access to medications, end-to-end elective surgeries, post-surgery consultations, fitness training, nutrition coaching, and remote patient monitoring. Empower patients and their caregivers to make informed decisions regarding disease prevention, management, treatment, and overall well-being. The focus on comfort and convenience has become central to healthcare, with a significant portion of the population willing to invest in these personalised services. Technology plays a crucial role in enabling this patient-centric approach, transforming the healthcare landscape.
Startups have the potential to transform the healthcare industry by enabling more personalised and effective treatments, as well as improving public health outcomes. Overall, Indian startups in the healthcare technology space are driving innovation and contributing to the growth of this rapidly evolving industry.
Future of healthcare technology in India
In the post-COVID era, there has been a remarkable surge in the adoption of healthcare information technology (IT) as medical professionals, hospitals, pathology labs, imaging centres, and patients have increasingly relied on digital health technologies to deliver and access healthcare services. This widespread adoption during the pandemic has laid the foundation for continued innovation and growth in the healthcare sector.
“The future of healthcare technology in India holds great promise, offering ample opportunities for innovation and development across various domains. From software solutions that streamline clinical workflows to remote patient monitoring technologies, innovations are revolutionising healthcare delivery and empowering stakeholders to provide more efficient patient care,” concluded Masurkar.
One of the biggest consequences of the health-tech boom is the democratisation of healthcare. Now people even in rural areas can utilise telemedicine and teleconsultation to consult with expert healthcare professionals.
“The next step in health-tech innovation, naturally, seems to be the adoption of AI, and the development of an omnichannel to provide services throughout the healthcare spectrum such as consultation, AI-enabled diagnosis, healthcare delivery, etc which allows for an integrated personalised healthcare offering with quicker turnaround times, and better quality control. This has to be accompanied by the adoption of cybersecurity protocols and best practices for utilizing AI responsibly, including data privacy and transparency measures,” expressed Mukherjee.
The healthcare industry is undergoing a significant transformation, placing a stronger emphasis on a patient-centric approach. This shift is driven by the integration of advanced technologies such as AI, ML, Cloud computing, and Big Data analytics. These emerging trends present significant opportunities for Indian companies and startups to develop and commercialise innovative healthcare technologies that can address the unique challenges faced by the country’s healthcare system. Additionally, the growth of the healthcare technology industry is expected to create new employment opportunities for Indian workers, while also contributing to overall economic growth and development in the country.
With consumers becoming more proactive and aware of the health choices they make, the future of healthcare technology in India will be more focused on making informed decisions based on actual data. Predictive analysis through AI will help consumers be more proactive for their health in getting deeper insights and increase the demand for such technology and devices in India in the future. A lot of health-tech companies may witness investments in research and development and boost the Indian healthcare sector.