Survival of the fittest: How healthtech companies are pivoting amid COVID-19

Here are a few healthtech businesses which have pivoted to fight against COVID-19. Ranjana Nair of RayIoT tells about the challenges faced.

Survival of the fittest: How healthtech companies are pivoting amid COVID-19

Wednesday June 24, 2020,

9 min Read

All businesses worldwide have had to bear the brunt of COVID-19’s onslaught. While the stimulus has been universal, the responses have varied. In black-swan events such as these, the traditional ‘fight or flight’ response associated with adrenaline, can perhaps be extended to business ventures.

Nationwide lockdowns across the globe have severely impacted operations. Revenue sources have dried up, while expenditures are uncertain. Consequently, many businesses face peril. Some have frozen operations, while some have repurposed their offerings to suit the market’s current needs. Whatever course of action has been chosen, businesses universally have been forced to fight for survival.

As they say, when you’re backed up against a wall, break it down. Several businesses have done just that and have emerged from the other side with a new outlook, a new business plan, and a success story. In this article, we highlight a few businesses within the HealthTech industry which have pivoted to join society’s fight against COVID-19, and talk at length with the founder of one of them.

What is the reason behind the pivot?

COVID-19 has brought about a bifurcation of businesses, into ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ services in many countries.

Businesses in ‘non-essential’ segments have been forced to freeze operations, owing to government restrictions such as the closure of offices, nationwide lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. These have led to an inability to continue operations, and revenue has suffered. The economic impact has forced some ventures falling under this tag to pivot to remain operational and generate revenue during these troubling times.

Healthcare, on the other hand, is an essential service. The world is looking towards healthcare players and frontline workers to lead the battle against COVID-19, by way of treatments, or a vaccine. Unlike ‘non-essential’ businesses, many healthtech startups lack an immediate impetus to pivot their product offerings for the sake of survival.

Moreover, as nations, pharmaceuticals, and research institutions race to create an effective vaccine and medication for COVID-19, the likelihood of a startup beating them to a breakthrough solution is slim. Hence, with an uncertain and likely small market, it raises the question, why do many HealthTech startups continue to pivot in response to COVID-19?

Companies in this industry have always focused on redefining healthcare by providing novel, accessible and cost-efficient healthcare services to critical problems faced by individuals. With this being at the very core of their mission, these healthtech companies are now leveraging their technologies to help in the fight against COVID-19, as natural step-in progress towards their missions.

Biofourmis is one such healthtech company that has successfully used its technology to implement a solution for remote monitoring of patients in Hong Kong. According to its joint venture partner from Hong Kong, the company did so to

“lead to a better epidemiological understanding of COVID-19 so we can improve the outcomes of our citizens — as well as the global community — as more people become infected.”

Further, the CEO of Biofourmis, Kuldeep Singh Rajput, also commented,

“The sooner these biomarkers associated with COVID-19 deterioration are identified, the sooner healthcare providers can intervene and prevent a serious medical issue. We currently know the common symptoms, but we are still learning how this strain of the coronavirus affects the body. This programme will be a key step in achieving this important goal. When a pandemic such as COVID-19 spreads and so much is unknown, every second counts.”

With healthtech companies prioritising this fight against COVID-19, it is evident that the benefit of the society at large supersedes any monetary benefits for the industry. Additionally, another key motivator for the industry to join in the fight against COVID-19 is the ability to create an impact at a global level.

With a definite solution to the problem unlikely to come up in the near future, companies that are working on addressing the problem stand a unique chance to display solutions to a hyper-attentive, global audience.

We take a look at companies that have repurposed their technologies in the fight against COVID-19.

We got in touch with the founder of RayIoT, Ranjana Nair, who shared the motive behind their pivot, their journey in accomplishing it and the challenges they faced, among other things.

How did you come up with the idea to create a COVID-19 product?

We were already working on creating awareness around the importance of tracking breathing rates. We were on alert with the rising trend of COVID-19 infections, including those of SARS and MERS in past years. All of them were respiratory illnesses. The virus affects the lungs directly. Breathing pattern is a better indicator for doctors to understand the condition of their patients.

Another observation that we made was 80 percent of the infected patients were asymptomatic. They had a high virus load and were highly contagious, but not bedridden. We also saw that the health force was struggling to keep track of everyone and was actually falling sick themselves.

It was important to track the right vitals, track asymptomatic patients who are not bedridden, and minimise contact between doctors and patients.

Our baby monitor product, with certain tweaks, would be perfect as an AI-powered, accurate remote health monitor with telemedicine.

Walk us through how the RayBaby device is helping in the COVID-19 fight?

Our innovation addresses the following challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • The risk of hospital-acquired infection to both patients and caregivers with the unprecedented inflow of patients
  • The need to prioritise hotspots in view of the lack of resources, such as caregivers, hospital beds and ventilators. We are short of 600,000 doctors and two million nurses in India. Many countries have already exceeded their capacity to serve the affected population.
  • Non-availability of vaccines, which has left us with urgency for early disease management, more than ever before.

We have created a non-contact remote health monitoring device to track the onset of COVID-19, even when there are no symptoms. Also, we track shortness of breath, which is the most significant differentiator of COVID-19 from the flu. Our technology can be controlled through a mobile app and compact tabletop hardware that continuously monitors the vitals at every step of contact tracing.

This can also be integrated with consumer devices like phones and laptops. With no contact or clinical setting required, our algorithms have an accuracy of 98 percent in breathing rate detection. Our Central Quarantine Database allows all the devices to be connected to one central database, which lets you continuously monitor more than 100,000 patients at a time.

By just tracking respiration rates, you are able to intelligently categorise the quarantined patients into mild, severe, and critical cases.

With an A/V option, the doctor can see both the audio and video of the patients classified as critical, select those who need care on a priority basis, and direct resources accordingly. Doctors remain safer as they avoid contact with the patients.”

What are the challenges you faced for this pivot?

The paucity of information on COVID-19 was a real challenge. It was so new! All the information was based on earlier infections, including SARS and MERS. During the first three weeks, we would hear conflicting information regarding symptoms and rates of infection.

We were learning new characteristics of the disease every day. Basically, we had to work with no data. As a product, we had to optimise and test for the adult section at the same time that hospitals were crowded and panic mode had set in.

What is your current target market?

General wards of hospitals, quarantine centres, task-forces, consumers, and distributors.

How did you manage to push the product out so quickly?

HCG (HealthCare Global Enterprises Ltd is India’s largest provider of cancer care) played a pivotal role in helping us set up clinical trials in a short period. A-Scale also helped us reach out to some key stakeholders across the government and help build awareness around the product.

Any quick wins so far?

We were quickly covered in the media and that gave us a lot of inbounds. We have some very interesting collaborations that we are excited to announce very soon. We also saw an increased interest in health monitors from the consumer side.

What’s the plan for these devices post-COVID-19?

As we track the breathing rate and other parameters, we will continue to use it for sleep tracking and wellness tracking. Moreover, if patients have pre-existing conditions like heart issues or asthma, our device can be used to track all of this.

What would you say to startups and founders pivoting or looking to create COVID-19-centric solutions at this time?

Run pilots with stakeholders to make sure that it’s serving the purpose and be very mindful of time. Everything was supposed to be done yesterday! New data about the disease will be thrown at you, but you should try to stick to information published by reliable sources.

A major example is that we initially focused on fever being the main symptom of COVID-19, which is not true, or the overproduction of ventilators which is not being utilised

To say that we live in difficult times is an understatement. The battle against COVID-19 is likely to be a long and protracted one as governments, scientists, and societies race to find solutions to flatten the curve. It is in this struggle against an invisible enemy that society must work together for the attainment of the greater good.

It is precisely in times like these that innovative companies with the technology, know-how, and expertise to contribute in this fight shine the brightest. A clear case is to be made here for collaboration — the speed of early-stage healthtech startups coupled with the sheer scale of healthcare incumbents makes for a formidable match against this invisible enemy.

For those exploring the possibility of pivoting or expanding their services in a to help fight COVID-19, this is a great opportunity to contribute to global efforts to shorten this pandemic. This is a time for all to come together, beyond the profit motive, to end COVID-19, and give our healthcare infrastructure a fighting chance.

Edited by Kanishk Singh

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)