India innovating toward affordable healthcare

India innovating toward affordable healthcare

Summary: Companies are leveraging cheaper medical equipment, telemedicine consultations and more affordable surgery, as some of the disruptive innovations to make healthcare more accessible.

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Despite the growth of medical tourism in India, remote villages in the country are still lacking chemist shops, let alone a clinic. For the wider masses, healthcare services remain prohibitively expensive.

Although the government has set up over 22,000 primary healthcare centers in villages across India, these often remain just structures as doctors, radiographers, pathologists, etc, are hard to find. The good doctors prefer to work in the larger cities where there are better facilities and remunerative jobs.

"The primary healthcare centers are not economically viable," said Vijay Simha, CEO of OneBreath, a startup developing a low-cost, portable ventilator for launch in 2013. He was speaking at a panel discussion at the TiEcon Delhi 2012 conference held in New Delhi over the weekend.

According to Simha, several hospitals in India have ventilators that do not function, and most cannot even afford a ventilator. This has led to higher mortality rate.

"India has the opportunity to leapfrog all models of healthcare," said Ajay Bakshi, CEO of Max Healthcare.

"Don't just look at what Max Healthcare, GE, Philips, etc, are doing and say this is what Indian healthcare is going to be. It's an open field and we need to get innovative," added Bakshi, whose company runs a leading chain of hospitals in India.

He pointed to some examples of how innovative approaches were being adopted by entrepreneurs to reach out to communities across India, and how high-end healthcare players were making top-of-the-line healthcare more affordable.

For instance, Philips Healthcare now has an innovation campus in Bangalore that is developing products for use in small towns and cities.

In another example, social enterprises such HealthPoint Services India (HSI) are taking quality healthcare to rural India. The organization owns E Health Points (EHP), which provides rural villages with clean drinking water, medicines, diagnostic tools, and advanced telemedical services--that bring a doctor and modern, evidence-based healthcare to their community.

Improving primary healthcare
EHP has entered into a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement with the Punjab state government to have tertiary care facilities in cardiac care, oncology, neurology and orthopedics and trauma.

"We run primary healthcare centers in villages in Punjab that have a population of 4,000 to 10,000 people," said Amit Jain, CEO of EHP. At EHP, most of the diagnostics tests are provided at high discounts compared to those at the nearest towns and cities.

Similarly Eye-Q Super-specialty Eye Hospitals is providing eye care at affordable rates in small towns and cities across north India.

"We do cataract surgeries at INR 3,000 (US$57.26) and are a profitable company," said Rajat Goel, co-founding CEO and managing director at Eye-Q Super-specialty Eye Hospitals. In the city, a cataract surgery can cost anywhere between INR 20,000 and INR 30,000 (US$381.75 and US$572.62). His company sees between 500,000 to 600,000 patients a year.

Cheaper medical equipment
Several medical equipment manufacturers are also working at more affordable price points for smaller towns and villages.

According to Rekha Ranganathan, senior director and head of strategy at Philips Healthcare, affordability means different things to different consumers.

"It has one meaning for the premium consumer, and another for rural customers. So we have to constantly evaluate the price point which our consumers are able to [pay]," she said.

There is also a market opportunity for products like OneBreath, which was designed for emergency situations and for patient care in resource-poor countries. It is particularly useful for India, where regular power supply is a challenge, the company said.

However, India needs the right regulations to encourage large-scale adoption of telemedicine. In fact, India does not even have a medical device safety bill.

"In India, regulations do not exist. Doctors get arrested for incubators that catch fire," Simha noted.

The country also needs a regulatory authority for medical devices, while there is no regulation pertaining to telemedicine consultation. "Lack of regulation in this area is getting in the way of large-scale adoption of telemedicine," Bakshi said.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

Topics: Health, Emerging Tech, India

Swati Prasad

About Swati Prasad

Swati Prasad is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist who spent much of the mid-1990s and 2000s covering brick-and-mortar industries for some of India's leading publications. Seven years back when she took to freelancing, India was at the peak of its "outsourcing hub" glory and the world of Indian IT, telecom and Internet fascinated her. A self-proclaimed technophobic, Swati loves to report on anything that's remotely alien to her--be it cloud computing, telecom, BPOs, social media, e-government or software and hardware, and also how high-tech sectors impact the Indian economy.

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5 comments
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  • So...

    with no regulations at all, most Indians never see a doctor or have access to a pharmacy, and the hope is that you may get a few minutes with a Doctor on a web cam some day. Welcome to America's future!
    Tony Burzio
  • Definitely true.

    Its the need of the hour. With growing technology every single moment, it is very much imperative to have innovations in the health care space. Recently attended an event which displayed some amazing healthcare products such as Diabeto, which makes use of big data and helps its customer with instant analysis..
    Atharton_CB
  • great

    Great step towards development.
    Quanta-His
  • Modern medicine doesn't always 'work' either

    Its funny. I would travel to india rather then goto a MD here. India's alternative medicine known as Ayurveda is wholistic and attempts to actually CURE disease rather then western doctors who put you on pills for life because that's what they have been brain washed into thinking from big pharma. Modern medical 'mysteries' such as cancer, diabeties, corhn's disease which require life time of medicines are all being cured there. Treatments are also relatively inexpensive. Locals in the region choose Ayurveda over 'modern' medicine any day for good reason. Stay out of there western medicines.
    sowrabh@...
  • Cost effective healthcare

    Actually you know what, we dont really need new innovations in Healthcare. All we need to do is look at ways to make current healthcare cost effective. Making more use of hi-cost diagnostic devices, making more information available. Example take medicines, there are web services which tells the patient low cost generics for the branded medicines prescribed. Now this process doesnt require any innovation. All is required is sharing info. you can go to healthkartplus.com and see what low cost options are available. Similarly, in hospitralization (surgery) care, you can log on to medeel.com and check out what will your surgery cost across various hospitals, can go to the hospital which offers best services at best rates. Simple. So, an innovation can be as simple as just making the information available. hats off to medeel.com and healthkartplus.com
    Rahulkhatri1977