Many startups are working on innovative solutions/ products to ensure healthcare is made inclusive and available to remote parts of the country.
By Jagdeep Gambhir
COVID19 has put the limelight back on gaps in healthcare delivery system in most developing countries, including India. At the same time, many startups are working on innovative solutions/ products to ensure healthcare is made inclusive and available to remote parts of the country. Why is this important? In India, we have fewer doctors than we need (less than 1:1000 recommended by WHO). Out of pocket medical expenses are surging and insurance penetration is sparse. When doctors are scarce, access breaks down at the first point of supply of primary healthcare viz, access to a qualified doctor to treat a sick person. Doctor scarcity means that, it is vulnerable segments who are severely impacted. It is well documented that improving primary care would lead to dramatic improvement in health outcomes.
According to research, an increase in one primary care physician per ten thousand is associated with a 5.3% mortality reduction. Access to primary healthcare is determined by the availability, affordability and quality of care. To improve availability, startups are working towards increasing awareness/ knowledge of various health issues, especially related to women and children. They are riding on the penetration of the Internet. These awareness programs are delivered in local languages, so that language is no longer a barrier to understanding.
Service delivery is being improved by solving resource asymmetry through online doctor consultations, e-pharma and creating access to a complete chain of healthcare. Our experience is that nurse-assisted telemedicine is effective in delivering high quality healthcare. The nurse-assisted blended model ensures that the patient feels cared for, besides being ‘treated’ for his illness, viz prescribed medication. IoT enabled devices like digital stethoscopes and eye care machines are also helping in getting better clinical outcomes.
With innovative business models, startups are also making healthcare more affordable. With telemedicine alone, research suggests that India could save up to $10 billion by 2025. Many ventures are reducing their cost structures by sharing existing infrastructure of government/ local NGOs — thus increasing their financial viability. Ayushman Bharat will create also a conducive ecosystem for startups working in the rural healthcare space. Innovative insurance products and outcome-based financing models are set to come up in a big way.
Technology can also help improve the quality of medical care significantly. As more and more data about the health profile of patients, especially rural patients is gathered, it will become a valuable resource in decision making and planning. With the use of data mining and artificial intelligence, computer aided treatment is possible, where Doctors are reminded or provided suggestions with regards to medications as well as the patient’s prior health history. There has been a huge jump in the number of startups working in the area of artificial intelligence. We can anticipate many intelligent solutions developed over time, which will lead to improving healthcare outcomes.
Lately the government has become proactive about enabling startups/ innovation in the healthcare space. Telemedicine has got a huge boost with the Prime minister advocating for it. Favorable regulations have been passed. Getting an acknowledgement by the Medical Council of India (MCI) has helped in getting wider adoption of the model with doctors. It is no surprise that 76% of healthcare providers feel telemedicine will continue to be used at high levels after Covid-19.
Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI)’s recent directive to health and general insurers of including telemedicine in health cover is an added boost. Telemedicine has shifted now from being a niche practice, a limited substitute for face-to-face consultation to becoming a mainstream treatment protocol in its own right.
There is no denying the fact that a robust public healthcare system is still the key player in delivery quality healthcare to the last mile. However, cutting-edge solutions and agility of startups will end up redefining how India accesses healthcare. Given the huge size and diversity of India’s population and resource constraints, innovative approaches are absolutely necessary to address the challenges of public health. Whether they are for-profit organizations or non-profit organizations, only startups can drive the development and popularizing of innovative and effective approaches. Startups hold the baton for helping bridge the healthcare divide and also for creating an ecosystem of access to personalized, better informed, efficient and effective care till the very last mile.
- Jagdeep Gambhir is Founder and CEO, Karma Healthcare. Views expressed are the author’s own.