Over the last 28 years, Vijai has been in the forefront of building digital radiography equipment. Now with Helyxon, he is trying to make healthcare accountable using data.
Even the best of hospitals have limitations when it comes to in-patient care. Take the case of Varun Mehta, a Chennai-based engineer, who had to be admitted to a large hospital in the city for treatment of dengue. As an in-patient, his temperature needed to be monitored regularly. He had a barcode on his wrist to capture his case history. However, his temperature was being captured by a nurse no more than once every two hours, and based on the readings he was being given the necessary medicine.
But tracking temperature on a roster basis in such cases is not a very efficient way of going about things. One night, Varun's temperature shot up from 100 to 103 causing him to pass out. Had it not been for a relative attending on him, the nurse and the duty doctor wouldn’t have come to know of Varun's condition until the bi-hourly check.
Addressing this gap in patient care is Chennai-based IoT startup Helyxon, which has come out with a continuous patient monitoring band that shows the doctor and the nurse on duty a complete dashboard of the patients on the floor. This allows the medical staff to attend to patients based on the care needed.
Helyxon was built by 47-year-old Vijai Shankar Raja, a healthcare veteran of 28 years. When you meet him, he is brimming with a million ideas on how technology can make healthcare look at outcomes over just treatment rates or the number of patients that have walked in for treatment. Vijai believes the opportunity to automate healthcare is a billion-dollar opportunity. Helyxon is working on problems associated with tracking patient healthcare in hospitals.
The early days
Before Helyxon was founded in 2014, Vijai had already been an entrepreneur for more than 22 years. He started out as a young service manager at a Toshbro Medicals, which serviced medical equipment, before he set up Avvanttec Medical Systems in 1995, a venture that would operate in the same space. He exited this company in 2001 and set up Cura Healthcare, which offered digital radiography services and also manufactured its own product. It started off with X-ray, MRI, and CT scanners. From there, the company built its own digital radiography product, thanks to the money generated from the services business. By 2012, Cura had become a Rs 45-crore business. "The product was branded, and I sold it to several hospitals in India," says Vijai.
Cura was sold to Peepul Capital in 2014, which invested close to $15 million in the business. Vijai exited in 2014, and immediately went ahead with researching his next big idea. Says Vijai,
"The medical industry scores very low on trust, affordability and reach. Doctors need to believe that they can offer all this, but they know they do not."
He adds that only 10 percent of the doctors in this country make money, and insists that if they were open to using technology that enables them to track the lifecycle of their patients, they could make far more than they do today.
Between 2014 and 2016, Vijai and his team of ten engineers began to work on a watch that could track the temperature of patients. The watch, which weighs 5 gm and is 1.5 inches in diameter, connects to hospitals’ systems and personal systems or devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and transfers the patient’s information to a central dashboard. The company has sold 1,500 units so far.
The watch does away with the need for manual monitoring at fixed hours. But IoT in healthcare is very difficult to crack, because it requires big hospitals to make their doctors adapt to new technology. And paper records are still considered legal and necessary. "Adoption is the key, and the number of hospitals using the platform makes this an important step to their digital data collection strategy," says V. Ganapathy, CEO of Axilor Ventures.
There are startups like Spectral, Forus, and Cardiac Design Labs that have already hit it big in this industry. According to Markets and Markets, IoT in the healthcare industry is a $163-billion opportunity, 90 percent of which will be in North America, Western Europe, Japan, China, and South Asian countries.
In India, hospitals spend less than 1 percent on technology. So startups in the space will have to contend with 50-odd corporate hospitals that will beat them down on price and only ask them to be a part of pilots. A large scale adoption of startup technology is yet to be seen in the healthcare space in India.
But Vijai believes he has the right set of products and the contacts to crack the industry. He has invested Rs 3.5 crore in the business so far, and is looking to raise money from investors. If his watch replaces the thermometer, there is nothing like it.
The future is in the convergence of data, and Helyxon has placed the right bets. So when we see patients say that he prefers a watch to a thermometer being stuck in his mouth, that's when the company would have made a mark.
- Vijai Shankar
- Vijai Shankar Raja
- Avvanttec Medical Systems
- startup technology
- digital radiography product
- medtech startups in India
- healthcare IoT
- startups in healthcare in India