Atul Gandhi

Founder- Seva at Home

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The Future Of Healthtech Depends On Government-Private Collaboration

The rapid increase in health digitization has both caused and been a result of government mandates and guidelines.

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For the last few years, India’s relationship with healthcare technology had been in a nascent stage, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, it had to propel itself forward to cope with an unprecedented situation. The pandemic exposed gaps in our healthcare system, highlighted the inequality of care, and expedited the adoption of new tools in the industry. With the assistance of an influx of healthtech start-ups that spearheaded the e-health movement by facilitating online consultations, e-pharmacies, remote monitoring, and many innovations, the government’s own ventures granted legitimacy to these developments and helped ease consumer fears. A three-pronged approach can be seen in the government’s digitization efforts: the first is changing consumer behavior and their attitude towards eHealth and app-based healthcare. This can most strongly be felt through the usage of CoWIN for booking vaccination appointments. India has run the world’s largest vaccination drive with the help of a digital platform. Engaging with CoWIN may have set the ball rolling for more healthtech participation, and would have undoubtedly allowed people to become more comfortable with such modes. The second and third are the government’s own initiatives in telemedicine, e-hospitals, and many such healthtech programmes, and their policy changes that encourage digitization. All of these come together to bring about a sharp behavioral change in the country, and encourage the adoption of more healthtech tools.

Why healthtech needs rapid adoption and support in India

Currently the doctor to patient ratio in India doesn’t meet the WHO recommendation of 1:1000—though strides are being made to reach the target by 2024. As per the National Health Profile 2019, in Bihar there is one doctor for every 43,788 people in the state, while a state with a better ratio like Delhi has one doctor for every 2,028 people. The burden on the traditional healthcare system is clearly visible, as is the lack of quality care available to those in remote areas of the country where the ratio falls well below the requirement. Embracing technology can make healthcare not only available to all and also make it equitable. What has emerged during this period, are tie-ups between start-ups and the government, which are focused on investment, outcomes and scale. E.g. the pilot initiatives between the Government of Meghalaya and Gurugram-based drone start-up TechEagle. Together, they are enabling delivery of medicines to remote parts of the state in record time, creating a system that can save many lives. There are many more such instances of the government partnering with private players.

A supportive health ecosystem

The rapid increase in health digitization has both caused and been a result of government mandates and guidelines. When the pandemic was in its initial stage and people were staying in, the need for telemedicine was tremendous—but it also required immediate guidance from governing bodies to protect people from unregulated healthcare. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with NITI Aayog, prepared a framework during this time that delineated factors ranging from consent and ethics, to evaluation and medication. For platforms such as Seva At Home, the guidelines for enabling telemedicine allowed us to offer quality care to many families during the crisis and on an ongoing basis for families that are being served today. With this support from the government, healthcare start-ups didn’t need to colour outside the lines, and the care offered could be benchmarked against the norm. For their part, the government launched its own telemedicine portal—eSanjeevani—and it’s serving about 90,000 patients per day and has accumulated a total of 2,58,553 consultation hours.

Other initiatives from the centre are also enabling this supportive health ecosystem. The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission has been launched to promote digitization of healthcare. There are various facets involved within it, but the main goal is to have ‘common health data standards’ and register facilities and professionals. This will not only allow practitioners across the country and specialities to share data, but will also give patients the power of knowing that their healthcare attendants have been through a form of vetting. By creating a health ID (over 14,64,80,331 have been created at the time of writing), all reports, prescriptions and diagnoses can be received digitally and kept as part of the personal health record. How does this help healthtech start-ups? The government has created a system within this mission that allows private providers to integrate their own services with those of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission and/or become a Health Information Provider or Health Information User. With such a robust database and convenient system of sharing medical history, healthtech start-ups—of which there are over 5,000 in India—will get the impetus they need to grow further.

Enabling future growth

As per a report from IAMAI-Praxis Global Alliance, India’s healthtech industry is estimated to touch $5 billion by 2023—from a 2020 valuation of $1.9 billion, that’s a 39 percent compound annual growth rate. The pandemic has, of course, played a major role in allowing Indian start-ups to grow, but this is also a result of the liberalization of India’s FDI (foreign direct investment) policies in the hospital sector and in the manufacturing of medical devices; this will encourage further investment in the country’s healthtech future.

The government is also directly supporting healthtech start-ups at both the state and centre levels. In Kerala, more than a hundred healthtech start-ups received grants amounting to five crore rupees in order to continue innovating and providing tools to fight the pandemic. At a central level, during the 75th Independence Day celebrations, it was announced that 75 start-ups would receive support from the government as part of a scheme from the Department of Biotechnology’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council. It is initiatives like these that show that innovation in healthcare will continue to be encouraged, and environments where they can thrive will be fostered.

Now, with the government getting involved in the healthtech sphere, the reach is widened and gives start-ups and other private companies the chance to offer their services and help the country reach its healthcare targets

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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