The health-tech edge: Govt must engage start-ups to close public healthcare gaps

By: |
June 20, 2020 4:50 AM

While there is some traction on this, it is nowhere near enough. Karnataka and Rajasthan seem to be the only two states in the country which have had some engagement with start-ups for healthcare solutions.

While the Centre has conducted/sponsored hackathons for targeted solutions for Covid-related issues, the engagement with health-tech start-ups has to go beyond such sporadic support. While the Centre has conducted/sponsored hackathons for targeted solutions for Covid-related issues, the engagement with health-tech start-ups has to go beyond such sporadic support.

Covid-19 has exposed the gaps in public healthcare infrastructure and human resources, if this hadn’t already been obvious. With even metros like Delhi and Mumbai caught short, the disaster that awaits the country if the pandemic spreads widely in the rural areas isn’t hard to imagine—Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has just 4 doctors for 10,000 population, against the national average of 7 per 10,000 population. Against such a backdrop, it is fortunate that India has a thriving nursery of health-tech start-ups, most of which seem tailored to bridging the gaps between demand and supply of healthcare infrastructure and personnel. Indeed, at least two articles in these pages (bit.ly/3dgHe10 and bit.ly/2CnTz6R) have talked about this. Not only have health start-ups been able to bolster India’s stock of PPEs, N95 masks, ventilators, even 3D-printed face-shields, etc, many health-tech ones are helping crucial hospital functions to reduce human-to-human contact—for instance, Kerala-based start-up Asimov Robotics has created a self-sanitising robot that can deliver food, sterilised equipment, ingestibles at the bed-side in hospitals, reducing pressure on healthcare-workers.

Given it is impossible for the government—the Centre, states and even municipalities—to beef up healthcare capacity on its own, it needs to partner with start-ups and help scale up innovations, whether from the private or the public sector. While there is some traction on this, it is nowhere near enough. Karnataka and Rajasthan seem to be the only two states in the country which have had some engagement with start-ups for healthcare solutions. Janitri, founded in 2017, has monitored 27,000 pregnancies across 100 healthcare facilities in the two states with two offerings, Daksh and Keyar—the former is a tablet-based intelligent labour-monitoring (partogram) tool while the latter is a wearable fetal heart-rate and uterine contraction monitoring device. Both products improve efficiency and ease of monitoring, given they erase the need for bulky, non-transportable machines, human error in data monitoring and entry, etc. Niramai, a Bengaluru-based health analytics company, has developed a non-invasive technique to detect breast cancer which uses heat signatures to determine if cancer exists—now, the same technology has been repurposed for real-time body-temperature-monitoring for large groups. 5C Network, another Bengaluru-based start-up, makes consultation from a panel of expert radiologists available remotely, by facilitating direct uploads of radiological scans from hospitals and diagnostic centres on to its portal. Teleradiology, in a country that has just 1 radiologist per 100,000 population, could prove transformational, especially in rural areas.

While the Centre has conducted/sponsored hackathons for targeted solutions for Covid-related issues, the engagement with health-tech start-ups has to go beyond such sporadic support. State/local governments need to map the delivery-gaps in public healthcare, whether because of a lack of infrastructure or personnel, and engage start-ups that are offering solutions to these problems. Only with such backing from the government can there be meaningful scaling up of solutions.

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