Metamorphosis of healthcare is the need of the hour, startups driving this change

Innovation driven by technology through diagnosis, procedure, and distribution may lead to improving access and affordability. It will also allow the change of healthcare from the hospital to clinics, from clinics to the home, with access to experts round the clock.

India is the diabetes capital of the world, with 73 million cases and growing at a whopping rate. A study by the American Diabetes Association reports that India will see the greatest increase in people diagnosed with diabetes by 2030. India has the third-highest number of cancer cases in the world – over 16 lakh Indians are diagnosed annually, with a 50 per cent mortality rate. And if that was not it, India has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.

In spite of such high disease burden, India has one of the lowest public spends on healthcare and low insurance presentation, resulting in poor infrastructure and inadequate access.

Traditional business models have not been able to penetrate significantly due to high capex and high operational cost. Also, there is massive demand-supply gap of skilled resources beyond a few cities.

But as they say, “Out of adversity, comes opportunity”.

Access to basic primary healthcare is a big concern in semi-urban and rural areas, with about 74% of doctors concentrating on urban areas. Born out of this need, telemedicine has the capacity to reach remote regions and provide every citizen with basic healthcare. Models range from fully online to hybrid models within telemedicine. Medcords, a rural telemedicine site, digitalizes medical records through the pharmacy network to offer online teleconsultation services. Karma Healthcare, another rural-focused player, is pursuing a hub and spoken model, with nurses supported by their hubs that allow teleconsultation with specialist doctors.

Glocal is a tech-based network that, through an integrated model of comprehensive primary and secondary care clinics, digital dispensaries and technology, brings healthcare services to the rural population. In Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and some of the eastern states, it currently operates 141 wireless dispensaries. Glocal’s hospitals, along with state-of-the-art facilities, are built like lego parts and have 100 beds each. For 38 illnesses, it has standardized guidelines that cover 91 per cent of diseases or disorders.

In order to enhance diagnosis and provide more oriented care, AI helps analyze patient data. AI-driven microscopes help detect blood cells more rapidly and more precisely, enabling 95 percent precision. Qure.AI, a start-up based in Bangalore, uses AI and deep learning algorithms to recognize scan anomalies, thereby enhancing the accuracy and speed of disease detection.AI is also helping detect cancer – a women health-focused startup, Niramai, has developed technology to detect breast cancer by a simple reading of the patient’s body temperature.

Innovation in the business model such as the ‘center and spoken’ model helps improve access to substantial medical services as well as maintaining operational quality and reducing costs. India’s leading cancer center, the Tata Memorial Centre, aims to set up about 30 hubs and 100 spokes nationwide to boost access to affordable cancer care. It is anticipated that each hub will cater to 40,000 new patients per year while spokes are expected to handle 8,000 new patients. The aim is to increase the reach through hubs to cover more than 40 million people and between 5-10 million people through spokes.

Over the past five years, the advent of online pharmacy has helped to increase prescription access and affordability. The fill rates are strong with analytics-driven inventory administration. In addition, higher volumes allow better prices for patients, and faster deliveries are powered by a tech-enabled supply chain.
This tends to reduce non-adherence rates as high as 24 percent for heart disease and 50-80 percent for AIIMS hypertension. 1 MG, Pharmeasy and Netmeds are major players in this field, which are expanding their network across the region, funded by deep-pocketed investors. Separately, niche omni-channel players such as Daawa Dost are emerging and likely to co-exist with these major players if they can build a niche in the distribution space of medication for themselves.

This is really the beginning of a healthcare delivery space revolution, and we are only seeing the early shootings of this journey at the moment.