[World Health Day] What does the Indian healthtech startup ecosystem need to build a robust future

The COVID-19 outbreak impacted the way healthcare was perceived and delivered in India. While digitisation in the segment was already underway, the pandemic accelerated the digital shift.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the healthcare ecosystem. The unprecedented global health crisis changed the way we live, with people being forced to follow social distancing and avoiding crowded places. 

Earlier, patients would visit doctors for tests and diagnosis, but this perception changed amidst the pandemic for both patients and healthcare workers. People also realised that technology is critical to solving healthcare issues

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While technology was used in the healthcare sector in areas like telemedicine, online pharmacy, etc., both providers and consumers were slow to adopt these services.

“There was already a trend of bringing digitisation capabilities in healthcare for diagnostics, screening, and other solutions. Using digital or tech in healthcare was already coming in, but not in a full force for many reasons including behavioural patterns and resources. But now, with the COVID-19 led circumstances, the shift got accelerated,” Dr Taslimarif Saiyed, CEO and Director of C-CAMP (Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platform) told YourStory.

Increased digitisation, use of smart devices and wearable devices to monitor health, deeptech for diagnosis, electronic medical records, telemedicine, and teleconsultation services now largely characterise the Indian healthcare sector. This digital shift has the potential to bridge several gaps in the healthcare system including accessibility, affordability, early diagnosis, and screening, among others.

According to the IAMAI-Praxis report titled ‘HealthTech Predictions 2021, the Indian healthtech market is growing at a CAHR of 39 percent to reach $5 billion by 2023. The market currently stands at $1.9 billion, which is only one percent of the total Indian healthcare market.

As we look forward to observing World Health Day on April 7, YourStory brings to you a curated list of current needs and requirements in the Indian healthcare sector. 

Funding support

As the healthtech startup ecosystem proceeds to build new innovations to combat future crises, it needs venture capital support. 

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According to Dr Taslimarif, VC funding is the need of the hour to help the healthcare sector to scale up and build new innovations.

According to data from YourStory’s H1 2020 Startup Funding Report, the healthtech/healthcare sector received $110.7 million (approx) in funding in 2020, raised by 23 startups.

Realising the importance of supporting the healthcare sector, the central government too increased the budget allocation for the sector. 

While presenting the Union Budget 2021, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed an allocation of Rs 2,83,846 lakh crore for the healthcare and wellness sector. This also includes Rs 35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccines, which are being rolled out across the country since January 2021.

Funding support is crucial for the sector to scale up and build transformative solutions for solving challenges such as accessibility, affordability, lack of healthcare personnel among others and building the future of Indian healthcare sector.

Regulations and policy support

The high cost of healthcare has forced families to sell their assets, and many times pushing them into poverty. In a bid to support the healthtech ecosystem, last year, the central government launched the National Digital Health Mission in order to ensure healthcare access for everyone across the country. 

This year, during the budget announcement, FM also announced the launch of Aatmanirbhar Swastha Bharat Yojana with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore, which will be used for developing primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare over a period of six years.

While the government has been proactively supporting and collaborating with the private players to strengthen the Indian healthcare sector, much more needs to be done on the regulatory front.

“There is a need for proactive support via regulatory bodies where startups can easily reach out and get a response in a short time. Going forward, they would also need support from the government during the deployment of products or services. That is once they are ready with the product and its regulatory approvals, the government needs to help them deploy this. This has been a challenge to date,” Dr Taslim said.

According to Dr Varun Gupta, Convenor of Digital Health Platform and Senior Vice President at 1MG, the government also needs to finalise e-Pharmacy rules at the earliest to improve access to medicines.

"There is a need to notify the final e-Pharmacy rules at the earliest, to unleash the role of technology for improving access and affordability of quality medicines. We need a system to encourage and enable entrepreneurs in this sector," Dr Varun says

Push for digital healthcare delivery

With the pandemic outbreak, both patients and healthcare workers have been forced to adopt digital healthcare services. However, there is a need to further increase the adoption of digital services such as telemedicine, mobile health services, teleconsultation, etc., for better healthcare access.

Due to the lack of adequate healthcare personnel, it becomes very difficult for people to get access to quality healthcare. Telemedicine services can be an answer to this problem. Amid the COVID-19 situation, telemedicine has been playing a critical role in ensuring proper healthcare delivery. 

“Home healthcare, telemedicine, and e-diagnostics are some of the areas where the governmental guidelines can help in the transformation of the Indian healthcare ecosystem,” said Vaibhav Tewari, Co-founder and COO of Portea Medical.

Shyatto Raha, Founder and CEO of MyHealthcare Technologies, said that startups have been the drivers in the digital healthcare evolution. 

“In recent years, technology giants such as Google, Apple, Samsung, and others have also been pushing a whole new gamut of digital health applications for monitoring heart rates, ECG, blood oxygenation, blood pressure, pulse, rate and blood sugar levels,” he adds.

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Maintaining electronic medical data

Accelerated digitisation amid the pandemic has also opened up the dialogue for the need to maintain electronic medical data of the patients. Electronic data would help healthcare professionals get access to a patient’s medical history and prescribe treatments accordingly.

Speaking with YourStory, Vikas Gupta Co-founder and Programme Director of MyDiagnostics, explained that data portability would ensure a record of a patient’s clinical history and would help doctors make informed decisions during treatments.

“Digitisation of healthcare systems on standard-based protocols would ensure that there are standardisation and interoperability of data and this data can be further used for various insights. The data portability would ensure the patient records and their clinical history is available for making informed care decisions,” Vikas says.

Going forward

The change in consumer behaviour towards digital health is one of the most important aspects to ensure the shift. While people have already realised the potential of telemedicine and mobile health services amid the pandemic, the trend needs to continue even after the pandemic.

Apart from this, there is a need for public-private collaboration to strengthen primary healthcare access across the country especially in rural and semi-urban regions. 

“Insurance sector can further think about reimbursing the remote care packages (wherever possible), which will prevent the expensive hospital treatment and improve both economics and outcome while making the capacity available for critical cases,” Vikas suggests.

Shyatto believes the accelerated shift towards digital healthcare solutions, data-driven healthcare is here to stay beyond the pandemic. 

With adequate infrastructure and financial support, the Indian healthcare sector has the potential to further incorporate digital capabilities and not only make India self-reliant in this space but might also evolve as one of the global leaders in the healthcare segment.

Edited by Megha Reddy