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Pandemic has significantly increased the digital adoption in healthcare: Cecilia Oskarsson, Swedish Trade Commissioner to India

‘Innovation and nurturing the start-up ecosystem has been one of the key agendas for the Government of India.’

Healthcare in India, digital healthcare, Cecilia Oskarsson, Swedish Trade Commissioner to India
'Innovation has played a critical role in managing the pandemic in India as well as across the globe.'

COVID-19 has disrupted the healthcare delivery in our country and has infected over 40 million people. Government and private hospitals are continuously working towards improving the delivery of healthcare. In India, all the key pillars of healthcare are stressed post the impact of the pandemic, and the Government has realized the need to quicken the pace of improvement in the healthcare infrastructure of the country. Agility in the healthcare system needs to be built in along with strengthening the healthcare pillars in-order to handle the pandemics of the future. Innovation played a critical role in managing the pandemic and some of the healthcare startups that came up during the pandemic have been playing a pivotal role in the same. Technology has created a shift from reactive healthcare to patient-centric wellness that traverses the patient experience journey, from personalized medicine to lifestyle modification assistance in the future.

Cecilia Oskarsson, Swedish Trade Commissioner to India who spoke with FinancialExpress.com’s Tarun Bhardwaj about their unilateral partnership with top medical institutions in India  to enable and implement the shared vision of developing innovative solutions aiming to solve various healthcare problems that exist in the country. Excerpts: 

What is the current scenario of healthcare innovations in India? What kind of change are you bringing into the Indian healthcare ecosystem?

India is one of the leading countries in nurturing the innovation ecosystem and that is visible in the number of unicorns that the country has produced over the last 1-2 years. A similar trend is also visible in the healthcare ecosystem in India where we have seen new innovations emerging across digital, medical devices and drug discovery. The Government of India is supporting these healthcare innovations through multiple initiatives and one of the key initiatives is BIRAC. Given the scale and regulations around the healthcare sector, innovative solutions in this area need more support to enable them with market access and product validation.  Through the India-Sweden Healthcare Innovation Centre we are enabling a collaborative ecosystem for start-ups to work together with industry, academia and healthcare partners to validate their product and further enable them with market-access opportunities in private and public healthcare.

Given the pandemic situation, what is the role of the technology led innovation in strengthening the Indian healthcare system? 

Innovation has played a critical role in managing the pandemic in India as well as across the globe. The pandemic has significantly increased the digital adoption in healthcare in both public and private sectors. Some of the start-ups from our cohort have also been instrumental in the pandemic management. For instance, one of our start-ups Dozee, through their innovative remote monitoring solution has created step-down ICUs in multiple hospitals in India and is thereby addressing the challenge of infrastructure availability. Another of our start-ups Blackfrog Technologies has developed solutions for temperature-regulated carriers for vaccines and we have enabled them to deploy in some parts of Rajasthan.

Does the Industry have the support required from the Government in enabling the advancement? How is GoI supporting Business Sweden in this initiative?

Innovation and nurturing the start-up ecosystem has been one of the key agendas for the Government of India. They have been pivotal in supporting the start-ups ecosystem through programs of organisations like Atal Innovation Mission, Startup India etc. In the India-Sweden Healthcare Innovation Centre, we have created an ecosystem approach where we partner with the existing institutions to leverage their strengths and further build on the environment to nurture innovation in the country. We are very happy to share that we have been receiving great support from both the Ministries of Health – Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India and the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Govt. of Sweden and they are continuously providing us guidance in further enhancing our offerings. 

Cecilia Oskarsson, Swedish Trade Commissioner to India  

What is the ultimate agenda of this partnership between Business Sweden, AIIMS Delhi and AIIMS Jodhpur? When was this initiated? 

The broader vision of the platform is to support the Government of India’s vision of affordable and accessible healthcare, but we wanted to use innovation as a primary lever for delivering it. To enable this vision, innovation should not be looked at in silos, so we work across three pillars – (i) Technology and product related innovation – where we work closely with start-ups and enable them with growth opportunities (ii) Protocol and process driven innovation – where we work on enhancing the existing healthcare delivery protocols and (iii) capability building of workforce – where we train the existing workforce on new / emerging tools and techniques. This platform is built under the India and Sweden healthcare MoU and was launched in Dec 2019, during the royal visit from Sweden. 

What is the impact of India-Sweden healthcare innovation centre on the Indian healthcare sector till now? How often do you assess it?

We are very happy to see that the Innovation Centre has been able to create some impact in the healthcare ecosystem in all the three key areas. We have enabled start-ups like Qure.AI, Dozee and others to expand into India as well as international markets. Through our Centre of Excellence in Comprehensive Cancer Patient Support Service we have been able to provide counselling to over 1,200 patients to help them understand the disease and share required support to handle the disease. And through our skilling program we have trained more than 30 nurses in diabetes management, and we are planning to launch the e-module next month with a target to train over 5,000 nurses this year. 

How are you selecting the startups/ innovations to promote? What’s the selection procedure?

We select some of the key challenges in the healthcare ecosystem through our partners AIIMS Delhi, AIIMS Jodhpur, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare India and ICMR. An annual Innovation Challenge is opened up for applications which are invited from a large ecosystem of our partners in India and across Sweden. A rigorous evaluation process is deployed with evaluation being conducted by all our partners to identify the relevant solutions addressing the problem statements. 14 startups identified from 460 applications in the 1st Challenge are currently being mentored and another 10 have been handpicked out of 700 applications for our 2nd cohort of startups.

What will be the support provided by each partner of ISHIC to the selected winners? 

We identify and work with high calibre healthcare start-ups in India, Sweden and globally, through a structured process of mentorship, test beds, investor connects, global reach support (doorway to international markets – over 10 global markets accessed by some of our starts ups), the program aims to assist the start-ups scale up to the next stage and support innovative solutions that could help regress critical problems in the healthcare delivery landscape of India.

What is the role of AstraZeneca and NASSCOM in this initiative?

AstraZeneca is a Knowledge Partner of this initiative and through its Global A-Catalyst Network, the onboarded start-ups get access to international markets and network of Healthcare Innovation Hubs. Some of our start-ups have been able to leverage the experience and expertise of AstraZeneca and it’s a-Catalyst network with support to some of them for expansion into over 10 international markets.  NASSCOM is a Technology Partner of the Centre and an active part of the screening process of the Innovation Challenge and providing mentorship to the start-ups to enable them to scale up.

Can you tell us about a few of the out of the box innovations, which came to the limelight through this initiative?

We have 24 very unique and innovative solutions that are now onboarded with us, to highlight some of the unique startups 

a – Qure.ai is a home-grown AI solutions provider that is disrupting the ‘status quo’ in diagnostics by enhancing imaging accuracy and improving health outcomes with the assistance of AI. They tap deep learning technology to automate interpretation of radiology exams for time and resource-strapped healthcare professionals, enabling faster diagnosis and speed to treatment. 

b- Dozee’s Early Warning system helps hospitals with digitalization of vitals monitoring, critical care outreach automation, improved clinical outcomes & patient safety and maximum ICU bed throughput. This framework reduces the manual effort and the time spent by nurses in monitoring the readings of each patient. On an average, a nurse spends around 35 to 40 minutes on one patient.  Dozee helps nurses save their nursing time and assist doctors take the edge off analyzing the manually maintained records. 

c- ThermaiScan, a Swedish solution has developed a solution to screen breast cancer through mobile phones. With the rising cancer cases in India and globally, its critical to have solutions like these which are very affordable and innovative.

Can you throw some light on the future plans of India Sweden healthcare innovation centre?

We are still at the start of our journey though we have achieved significant progress and impact in the last two years, there are miles to go for us in further developing and enhancing the solutions to create an impact in India as well as across the globe. Some of the key things we are planning in future include.

  1. Working with the state governments to provide market access to some of the start-ups that are onboarded with the Innovation Centre
  2. We are also working on creating a holistic cancer program where we are currently working on creating a best-in-class protocol for cancer screening 
  3. E-Module for nurses in diabetes management will be launched in the next quarter and we aim to train 5000 nurses in this year. We will be also working on our next modules based on guidance of all our partners

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