The Indian Diagnostic Imaging Equipment Sector is expected to register a CAGR of 12-15 percent over the next five years. According to industry experts, the rise in prevalence of chronic diseases, increased adoption of technologies in imaging and a growing elderly population is expected to boost the growth.
Moreover, rising cases of chronic diseases, cardiovascular disorders, genetic mutations, GI disorders are all expected to impact the industry in a positive way. Furthermore, increased expenditure on the healthcare sector, as well as consumer awareness, experts maintain that it may serve as an opportunity for the imaging and radiology industry.
Financial Express.com reached out to Dr. Arjun Kalyanpur, Chief Radiologist & Founder CEO, Teleradiology Solutions and he talked about public-private partnerships in healthcare, upcoming trends in teleradiology, challenges in the country’s radiology segment, and upcoming plans among others. Excerpts:
According to you, what are the challenges that India’s radiology segment is facing? What needs to be done to turn these challenges into opportunities?
The main challenges that India’s radiology segment is facing is related to an increase in imaging volumes related to the greater number of scans being performed and the greater number of images per scan. On the other side of the coin, there are shortages of radiologists related to inadequate number of training programs to meet the needs of the population. To turn these challenges into opportunities, technology is the solution.
This can be in the form of teleradiology, which allows the workload to be efficiently distributed among a panel of radiologists irrespective of their location. Additionally Artificial Intelligence, which increases radiologist efficiency and productivity as well as accuracy simultaneously, thereby enabling superior radiologist performance and outcomes and addressing the radiologist shortage. Finally e-learning technology which allows for more effective utilization of the limited supply of radiologist educators available for training of future generations.
What are some of the recent trends in the radiology sector? What more needs to be done in this direction?
Some of the recent trends in radiology include:
- The global radiologist shortage continues to persist and worsen.
- There has been significant increase in utilization and acceptance of teleradiology post COVID.
- Another promising trend is the deployment of AI algorithms into reporting workflow in order to enhance radiologist productivity and accuracy.
- Teleradiology and the PPP model are enabling rural populations to access high quality radiology reporting services
- Ultra-portable hand-held digital Xray devices are now available that can transform rural primary care as well as screening programs for diseases such as TB.
- The main needs are related to addressing the shortages of radiologists by deploying innovative technologies such as teleradiology, e-learning and Artificial Intelligence and to use them effectively to bridge the gaps between the availability of radiologists and
- the demand for radiologic interpretations.
The importance of public-private partnerships (PPP) in the healthcare sector is increasing. According to you, why it is essential? Can it address the challenges of India’s public health?
Healthcare in India is a complex challenge requiring both high level medical expertise (read specialized/tertiary care) and a grassroots public health approach with national reach, in order to deliver high quality healthcare to the entire population. Both priorities need to be simultaneously addressed. No single entity can provide an all-encompassing solution and a partnership between private and public sector is therefore the way to go.
The private sector provides the necessary medical / technological expertise while the government provides the network and infrastructure for effective large scale deployment of healthcare solutions. Today in India we are faced simultaneously with legacy infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria while contemporaneously having to tackle the challenge of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and coronary artery disease. Technology in the form of telemedicine, teleradiology and artificial intelligence are the only viable solutions to bridge the gaps between urban and rural India and address the healthcare manpower shortages. Public private partnerships between healthcare/healthtech companies and the government leverage the strengths of each to provide a powerful collaborative approach to the massive challenge our population presents.
How can public-private partnerships influence the teleradiology sector in India?
In India there is a marked disparity in terms of the majority of radiologists being being located in metros, distant from 70% of our population. If access to radiology services is to be provided to rural and district level healthcare facilities, the use of teleradiology in a PPP mode is essential. Our work with the government of Tripura (which we have recently published) is an example of a successful PPP model between our organization and the Tripura ministry of health. The state of Tripura faces multiple healthcare challenges given its remote location in the northeast, it’s predominantly tribal population and it’s relative lack of infrastructure. High quality radiology reporting services were delivered to 26 community health centres district and sub district hospitals using teleradiology transmission of digitized xrays to the cloud and interpretation by Teleradiology Solutions’ panels of radiologists located across India with their hub in Bangalore.
A tribal population that has been largely deprived of access to healthcare was able to access the diagnostic expertise of specialized radiologists in the metros through this model. Another innovation within the model involved digitization of legacy analog X-ray films which helped to bridge the gap between the past and future and bring an outdated technology back into relevance from the perspective of allowing teleradiology reporting of hard copy Xray films.
How has been Teleradiology Solutions and journey so far? What are your upcoming plans?
We have just celebrated our 21st anniversary at Teleradiology Solutions. While in this respect we are a relatively mature organization that has been around since the beginning /inception of the teleradiology industry, it feels as though we are only just getting started! Over the past two decades we have evolved into the Telerad Group, comprising the services organization Teleradiology Solutions, a technology company named Telerad tech which has developed a robust AI-enabled teleradiology workflow platform called RadSPA, a clinical research division called Image Core Lab, and a chain of phygital clinics and diagnostic centres named RXDX, which have incorporated telemedicine into their routine workflow.
Two not-for-profit entities namely the Telerad Foundation and the People for People trust complete the portfolio. These also support the educational activities of the group, namely the Radguru teaching portal and the Hands on Heart Pediatric Cardiology initiative. Our group has seen healthy growth over the past two decades, currently at 30% year on year, although last year we saw record growth of 52%.. Having survived COVID during which a number of entities in this space shut down due to non-viability, we feel blessed to be in a position from where we can grow and scale to deliver greater impact.
Forthcoming plans include scaling reporting services within Asia, the Middle East and Africa while maintaining the sustained trend of growth in the US, our largest market. Our technology company is well positioned to partner with large healthcare systems to deliver value by way of distributed radiology workflow to ensure optimal utilization of radiologist time across a large multisite healthcare enterprise. Our AI division has developed cutting edge algorithms for detection of brain hemorrhage, stroke and its complications as well as early detection of breast cancer, with several new algorithms in the pipeline. Our clinical research division Image Core Lab is the first of its kind in India and offers Indian pharma, biotech and AI companies a quality partner to manage the imaging component of the clinical trials and drug discovery, as well as AI validation programs.
What new growth plans and new initiatives are you planning to launch in the upcoming financial year ?
During the next financial year the growth plans include scaling with a growth target of 30%. In teleradiology reporting services we plan to roll out subspecialty reporting in areas such as pediatric radiology, cardiovascular and neuroradiology, while in parallel scaling are emergency reporting services for which we have been ranked as the number one US provider in the past. On the technology side, the goal is to integrate our artificial intelligence algorithms in the space of stroke and cancer into our teleradiology reporting workflow to enable their global deployment and ensure maximum reach and impact.
We are also working to develop newer artificial intelligence algorithms for detection of clots in blood vessels, kidney stones and fractures, all of which are areas of acute care impact. And our RXDX clinics will further leverage the phygital model to provide both brick and mortar onsite clinical services as well as telemedicine consultations to both urban and rural populations.
Anything else that you would like to add?
This is an exciting time for healthcare innovation in India and we feel very much a part of this revolution. Positioned as we are at the convergence of medicine and technology and with the momentum of two decades of experience, we feel that we are at the time and place to scale rapidly and deliver maximum impact in healthcare both in India as well as across the globe.