By Anurag Khosla
The Indian healthcare panorama is rapidly evolving. It would not be an overstatement to say that the country is going through a healthcare revolution. The Government’s focus on providing quality yet affordable healthcare for all, health tech advancements, success of telemedicine during pandemic and rising investor interest can be attributed to this rapid advancement. The best part of this development is that Tier 2 and 3 cities are at the fore of this growth story.
India is a diverse country and its healthcare sector is no different. On one hand, India is home to one of the world’s largest medical tourism industries, while on the other millions of Indians face an acute shortage of quality healthcare services. India’s healthcare system has been majorly concentrated in the larger cities which has forced people to migrate from smaller towns and villages to the bigger cities for accessing better medical facilities.
The Government, however, is determined to change this. There has been an increased investment diversification for the overall development of healthcare infrastructure in Tier 2 and 3 cities. The development of 6 AIIMS facilities in tier 2 cities like Rishikesh, Bhubaneswar and Bhopal and proposed AIIMS set ups in Awantipora – J&K, Rewari – Haryana, Darbangha – Bihar, and Madurai- Tamil Nadu validates their intent. Other public healthcare facilities are being equipped with the latest technologies like digital healthcare and telemedicine. Government initiatives like Ayushman Bharat, Ayush Mission and Pradhan Mantri Swathya Suraksha Yojna are proving to be game changers for the smaller towns and rural areas.
The number of beneficiaries under the Ayushman Bharat scheme has already crossed 50 crores. 40% of these are from the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid.  Indian Healthcare industry is projected to be valued at US$ 372 billion this year.  The hospital industry is expected to grow from US$ 61.8 billion in 2017 to US$ 132 billion by 2023.  The diagnostics and primary care industry are valued at US$ 4 billion and US$ 13 billion respectively.  AYUSH has grown from US$ 18.1 billion in 2014-20 and is projected to reach US$ 23.4 billion this year.
When compared to global standards, currently the penetration of medical services in India is low. The healthcare facilities in the metros can compete globally, the situation however, in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities have been otherwise until recently. There is a potential to tap a big market for medical services in the country. Investors are seeing this as an opportunity and are foraying into it.
Large healthcare organizations including global giants are now looking beyond the bigger cities and investing in smaller towns. Private healthcare brands including global giants have already ventured into smaller towns and peripheral regions with more following suit. With world-class medical facilities available, these cities are seeing the flux of people from the rural and adjoining areas in search of advanced health care, who otherwise would have defected to the bigger cities. Until hitherto, diagnostic facilities like Radiology, MRI, CT scans, advanced Pathology, were rarely available in smaller towns. The situation has changed in recent years.
Healthcare start-ups are playing catalyst to the healthcare paradigm. Start-ups not only bring onboard new technology and innovation, they are also facilitators to the patients and the healthcare providers. From providing basic diagnostic services to guiding patients to their nearest and best medical facilities they are managing it all. Their role is crucial in the smaller towns and rural areas where sometimes the medical facilities are located far away. With innovative solutions like cloud platforms, AI and ML-based applications, AR/VR based simulations, they are bridging the technology gap in the sector.
From the ROI perspective Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities are lucrative markets. Lesser competition, low penetration of healthcare, and people’s affinity with the internet are factors that hold potential for the healthcare start-ups. The Government of India has also created a favorable economic and regulatory climate for the start-ups to succeed in non-urban spaces.
The Government, private healthcare conglomerates, investors, and start-ups are working in synchrony to keep the juggernaut of healthcare rolling beyond the big cities. We are not too far from the stage when the healthcare standards of all the cities in the country would be uniform and the growth drive will gradually shift gears to rural India. The biggest impact of this will be reduced burden on the healthcare infrastructure in bigger cities as affordable, quality healthcare becomes available in lower tier Indian cities.
(The author is CEO vHealth By Aetna. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)