Healthcare IT is in its infancy in India

Written by BV Mahalakshmi | Updated: Dec 1 2009, 04:35am hrs
Healthcare is at the centre of GEs strategy. While GE Healthcare seeks to improve patient care by offering medical imaging, medical diagnostics and patient monitoring systems, the companys healthcare strategy has been further reinforced by its recent Healthymagination initiative and the commitment to spend $6 billion over the next six years to lead the change towards lower cost, better access and improved quality in healthcare. V Raja, president and CEO, GE Healthcare, South Asia and managing director, Wipro GE Healthcare is instrumental in tripling the investments in its R&D laboratory in Bangalore. GE has invested about Rs 250 crore at its John F Welch Centre and its healthcare laboratory is expected to have 28 bays spread over 50,000 square feet, which will stimulate a real hospital-like work environment with 1,200 engineers. In an interaction with BV Mahalakshmi, Raja opines that India is seeing a tipping point in healthcare today. Though our country has the largest pool of IT professionals and IT has left its mark on virtually every sector, healthcare is the exception. We still lack the infrastructure to enable more unified access across our rural and urban communities, he feels. Excerpts:

How do you view the healthcare segment in the context of current scenario Do you see informatics facilitating its growth

In India, the IT industry is highly fragmented. Market size is not estimated by independent agencies and a clear picture has not emerged. We estimate the total healthcare market to be anywhere in the range of $60-80 million per annum. We see the market growing rapidly at 20-22% year-on-year. Healthcare IT is in its infancy in India compared to western world. However, investments in healthcare IT still holds a distinct advantage when investments to other healthcare technologies are also happening. The costs are a big barrier as of now and Indias large IT pool can be the answer to bringing costs down. We are expecting IT to change the way healthcare is delivered today, just like the way IT powered other business sectors like banking and telecom.

The IT services are decided based on four elements: Healthcare providers who are looking to provide end-to-end solutions that includes basic administrative IT tools; payers, that is, insurance companies who are looking to automate claim management processes; patients, who need IT to have a better turn-around time or second opinions through online reports and images; and physicians, who are looking for patient dataready information that can help increase the efficiency of healthcare.

Do you address all these segments

We address all of these elements through one of the broadest spectrum of applications available with us. We are currently leaders in the image management market with about 50-60% market share. The top six hospitals of India are using GE Centricity for picture archival and communication systems (PACS) for management of clinical images. The market drivers will be government as well as private healthcare providers. Private healthcare providers are implementing hospital information systems (HIS), picture archival and communication systems (PACS) and clinical information systems (CIS) to improve workflow efficiency and achieve better patient care, satisfaction as well as cost gains.

Improved overall efficiency or performance is another major trigger across all hospitals or diagnostic centres, irrespective of sizes. Ease of data access aided by these IT solutions is a key requirement mostly at larger hospitals. Some of the responsible hospitals are even seeing it as a greener solution with lesser use of films and papers. IT helps them reduce consumables, manpower and saves precious real estate for them. We are experiencing this adoption of IT by leading corporate and private hospitals. Many hospitals are adopting IT to handle large patient volumes efficiently as well as automate administrative functions like patient admissions, billing financial reporting and material management .

What do the responses from the users and the medical fraternity look like

With the ever increasing number of patients, doctors are also looking for aids to help them analyse, interpret and diagnose more accurately.

Since the number of diagnostic examinations have increased with data sets becoming larger for each exam, advanced IT solutions to interpret and analyse them have become the need of the hour. Doctors also want to utilise the power of IT to get a deeper insight into the clinical findings of the exams. Some of the clinical IT modules that help are clinical decision support (CDSS), computerised physician order entry (CPOE), clinical departmental modules, EMR, and PACS.

How do you plan to take forward GEs funding initiative in the emerging markets such as India

Healthcare is at the centre of GEs strategy. In May 2009, GE announced its Healthymagination initiative and the commitment to spend $6 billion over the next six years to lead the change towards lower cost, better access and improved quality in healthcare. This strategic equity fund enables GE to accelerate the introduction of new technologies and services that support our GE Healthcare strategy and Healthymagination objectives. Through the fund, we aim to become a more effective partner to healthcare technology growth companies that are creating innovative solutions for healthcare.

Have you decided how you will use the fund Are there any acquisition plans or a move to raise the capital

We are keeping all options open. The type of company that we are targeting typically requires about $2-10 million funding in any round. The fund will be staffed with experienced GE investment professionals with strong healthcare backgrounds as it is a shared initiative from GE Healthcare and GE Global Research and an investment committee consisting of senior leaders from GE Healthcare, GE Capital and GE Global Research. We do not plan to raise third party capital.

The fund will target three broad areas for investment. These include broad-based diagnostics, including imaging, home health, patient monitoring, molecular diagnostics, pathology, novel imaging agents and other technologies for disease diagnosis; healthcare information technology, including electronic medical records, clinical information systems, healthcare information exchanges and value-added data services; and life sciences, including tools for R&D in biopharmaceuticals and stem cells and technologies for manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and vaccines. We will prioritise investments in companies that are developing products, technologies and services that contribute to lowering the cost of healthcare delivery, increasing access to healthcare, and increasing quality.

How do you plan to expand the current IT business in the healthcare portfolio

We have launched managed solutions to enable affordability across hospital IT solutions. The country has a population of 1.3 billion and has 0.7 beds per 1,000 people and an acute shortage of healthcare professionals.

The IT solutions will integrate multiple locations will help patient access and bridge the shortage. Secondly, we have developed solutions such as internet-based picture archival and communication system for creating simple tele-radiology interface. Though our country has the largest pool of IT professionals and IT-savvy communities, it has left its mark on virtually every sector. Healthcare is the exception. We still lack the infrastructure to enable more unified access across our rural and urban communities.

Given that research is your key focus area, what is your R&D expenditure What are you doing to create IP protection for your innovations

Globally, our company has invested $1 billion and in India, it is $60 million for R&D. In the last four years, we have disclosed 700 ideas, out of which 300 are patented and the rest have become trade secrets. Interestingly, we are seeing reverse innovation in India which is making hits in the global markets. Be it de-featuring or low-cost products, India is playing a vital role with local engineering, local vendors for global markets.