The Healthcare sector has started to benefit from the application of digital technology, particularly AI, in multiple domains – from drug discovery to aiding healthcare practitioners in their judgement to improving productivity in diagnosis and patient treatment. The challenges faced by healthcare systems in India are well known. According to the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence, the ratio of available doctors to the population in India is 1:1,596, as against WHO’s recommendation of 1:1,000. The Indian government is able to spend only 1.4% of its GDP on the healthcare sector and India is ranked 184th out of 191 countries.
Covid-19 has further highlighted the issues faced by the healthcare sector and emphasised the need for better healthcare infrastructure as well as digital-led solutions. Digitisation capabilities that were already being used in the sector have received a big push thanks to the pandemic. The use of technology, particularly AI, assumes significance as it can address a number of challenges faced by healthcare planners: accessibility, affordability, quality and inequity.
The National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence in India outlined by the Niti Aayog states that advances in technology and interest from innovators can help solve some long-standing problems of the sector. The investment and expertise required for the purpose create a strong case for public-private partnerships and technology-centred innovations at scale. It is noteworthy that in 2020, 57% of the total angel investments were in the healthcare technology sector in India.
Further, healthcare startups raised $1.3 bn in 2021, as against $316 mn in 2020. According to a report by advisory firm RBSA Advisors, the health-tech market in India is expected to grow at an annual rate of 39% over FY20-FY23, touching $50 bn by 2033.
Healthcare startups are building innovative solutions through the use of AI, IoT, robotics and data analytics to address long-standing healthcare issues. While in the past investors favoured healthcare solutions built around e-commerce and aggregation, of late most investments have been made in tech-enabled solutions which facilitate remote diagnosis and consultation, wellness, early detection and productivity enhancement for healthcare professionals.
In order to bring about large-scale transformation of the sector, there has to be a close alignment of the key stakeholders. Resistance to change from the stakeholders has to be overcome in order to make tech-led new-age solutions deliver on their promise and potential. Also, it must be borne in mind that product-focused healthcare startups have a long gestation period, unlike IT startups. Further, partnering with hospitals for clinical research involves patient convincing of doctors and other stakeholders to part with data. There are other challenges too.
Despite these, the significant potential for impact and reach the Indian healthcare sector offers is the reason it is attracting investments and the attention of tech innovators. The success of the healthcare startups would hinge on building win-win partnerships with established healthcare entities, ongoing improvements and adaptations of products, and working closely with policy planners to build an enabling healthcare ecosystem.
The writer is chairperson, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions firm.