Prakash Kamat, Founder Chairman & MD, SoftLink International shares his journey and the growth of technology usage in the healthcare industry with Prathiba Raju of Elets News Network (ENN)
How has IT in healthcare transformed over the years?
Rapidly transforming approach to medical technology and the availability of advanced medical equipment together has changed the way doctors perceive it today and it has revolutionised the way health care is being delivered. However, it was far from this when SoftLink decided to foray into HealthCare IT and Medical Imaging fields in 1997. Then, the healthcare industry in India did not know that technology could ease their jobs and improve patient care. The simple question was asked by us ‘If we have a good cardiologist on board and advanced cardiac labs & equipment’s, why do we need to spend lakhs of rupees on IT or workflow automation?’ It was a task to convince them of the benefits and to make them leverage the technology for their own good.
What are the new products and solutions offered by you?
We are a Software product company with a focus on HealthCare IT and medical imaging and have built a range of software products in Cardiology, Radiology and Hospital Automation. SoftLink builds a new release for each product generation every two to three years, thus keeping pace with customer expectations as well as technology evolutions. Currently, all the products and solutions of SoftLink in hospital automation Panacea Enterprise Suite – HIS, LIS, material management and asset management systems; HeartCare Plus – Cardiology Information System and HCP DICOM Net – a Cardiology Imaging Network; Imagine Enterprise Suite – Radiology Information System, Multi-modality PACS and WEB Viewing Solutions, are in fifth generation. Very recently we launched, Cloud based PACS and HIMS solutions, which are being deployed at hospitals in India.
What should be done to change the healthcare service delivery with the ICT intervention?
The government needs to review its policy framework on purchase of IT hardware and software for healthcare. This could eventually reduce the healthcare cost and deliver care to patients efficiently reducing treatment cycles and boosting productivity. Government can also enforce hospital to comply and keep medical records through ICT, so as to have more transparency and accuracy. I think the initiative of ‘Digital India’ is a step in the right direction and highlights the vision of new Government.
What is the current revenue share of your overseas and domestic business?
We are focusing on building products that conform to global standards and has been exporting them right from the second year of its inception. In terms of percentage share, our export revenue constitutes 60-65 per cent and domestic revenue is around 35-40 per cent. The differential is primarily due to premium product pricing in overseas markets and due to higher costs of healthcare employees, resulting into higher level of automation in healthcare industry.
Where does Indian healthcare stand when it comes to Cardiology Information System (CIS)?
HeartCare Plus has been the flagship product of the company in cardiology, when it was launched in 1997. Over the years it has evolved into a complete Cardiovascular Information System (CVIS), with interfaces to invasive and non-invasive equipment’s in the cardiology department. It allows reporting, electronic record keeping, research and advanced analysis. It also facilitates collating of data for national and international registries. It helps to prepare Research papers and Statistical Data Analysis in practically no time for presentation in PTCA Data Registry and International Forums such as ACC NCDR(R) CathPCI Registry.
Indian hospitals were slow to adopt Cardiology Information systems in the beginning, but if you look today, all the top most hospitals in India like, JIPMER Pondicherry, Fortis Escorts, New Delhi, Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai, Eternal Heart Care Centre, Jaipur are using our Cardiology Information system.
In recent years, there has been a consistent growth trend in the demand for IT solutions in the Indian healthcare market. What is the current market share for SoftLink in this region and what are your future strategies to make this region your stronghold?
SoftLink started with a focus in Cardiology and over the years has built a dominant position in Indian HIT Market Place as a “one stop” solution company that can give a “seamless” solution covering entire hospital workflow with specialized solutions through custom engineering. SoftLink has robust and versatile HIS and PACS suites to cover requirements of medium to large hospitals and with its product offerings in Cardiology and Radiology it can make super speciality hospitals “paperless” and “seamless”! We have garnered a good deal of market share in India and Asia and have built a installation base of 200 plus hospitals in 12 countries over the past 18 years and are adding 25-30 clients annually.
We feel that future of HIT is in “cloud technology” provided the security and confidentiality concerns of the hospitals are addressed in a meaningful way. Another dimension that must be worked upon by SoftLink and other HIT vendors is to adhere to “inter operability” standards mandated by HL7, IHE and DICOM. SoftLink has been following a standards based approach to its range of HIT Products and they comply to all applicable standards thus taking a “leadership” position in this regards.
What are the factors working in favor of and against widespread adoption of PACS in India?
We are seeing many new green-field hospitals coming-up in the rural and semi-urban areas. Corporate groups are also expanding their reach by starting new centers or by acquiring existing hospitals in different parts of India, especially the tier 2 and tier 3 cities.This has generated a huge demand of resources in terms of medical staff and paramedical. RIS-PACS is perceived as a tool to share such resources efficiently and economically. Additionally, the centers in semi-urban areas traditionally do not attract very high profile Clinicians, thus most of the time even after having imaging equipments reporting can be done!? Web based PACS can address this issue and offer solutions to cover entire range of challenges faced by these centres.
Current generation medical imaging modalities require archiving and post-processing of images, making PACS sort of a mandatory requirement. The only drawback that I see is availability of trained PACS administrators in India.
What is the potential of mobile-based healthcare services in India?
Mobile phone ownership in India is growing rapidly. Mobile has become an important ICT tool not only in urban regions but also in remote and rural areas. The rapid advancement in the technologies, ease of use and the falling costs of devices, make the mobile an appropriate and adaptable tool to bridge the digital divide. With the mobile-based healthcare services, we can slash the cost of healthcare while at the same time provide better quality services. We at Softlink have already started leveraging Mobile platform for faster delivery of care cycle by introducing apps for PACS that can deliver reports along with patient images right in the inbox of the Physicians smart phone.
Do you think Digital India Programme and the rapid spread in internet penetration will be a big booster in healthcare industry in India?
Yes, there is no doubt about it in my mind and we are seeing its impact in market place already! The Government of India has launched the Digital India programme with the vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy. At present, GOI has many schemes to deliver the care to the poor and needy, but still the care doesn’t reach them due to last mile challenges. The Digital India programme aims at pulling together all these challenges and deliver them effectively through existing schemes. These schemes will be restructured, revamped and re-focused and will be implemented in a organized manner.
The cloud computing in healthcare space is developing rapidly. Could you give us an insight into the prospects of cloud computing in India? What are the services that companies can look to offer?
Traditionally, acceptability of IT in Healthcare was challenged due to the upfront investment required in Healthcare IT. Healthcare organizations were always convinced about the benefits of IT in Healthcare but budgets for HIT were hard to come by! The way Cloud-based services work, they take away the burden of large initial investment required in Hardware & software platforms and thus allows Healthcare providers to get the full benefit of technology. Cloud-based Services are steadily becoming widely acceptable and are being adopted by healthcare organizations at a rapid pace. In past year, we have seen a surge in interest levels of hospitals for cloud computing and many players are moving their healthcare-related applications to cloud platforms. Even players who had no play in Healthcare IT are now trying to ride the bus leveraging the Cloud platform.
Healthcare is completely moving to a digital platform and becoming more patient-centric. Cloud solutions supports greater sharing and accessibility of health data. Medical imaging is one of the most prolific user of cloud in healthcare and can change future of diagnostic imaging in India and elsewhere. By using a cloud solution for storing and sharing medical records hospitals, physicians and other organizations can cut health care costs and at the same time boost speed and efficiency of delivering care. Softlink has already migrated the PACS offering to cloud and has built a concept of Public and Private Cloud for PACS! This hybrid approach is allowing small hospitals to leverage PACS at nearly zero upfront cost through public cloud and big hospitals can leverage private cloud to make medical images available from anywhere and yet keep the data secure within their hospital premises!
What are your future growth plans for the healthcare industry?
SoftLink has been an innovator and early adopter of HealthCare IT technologies and has built product roadmap around it. Looking into the future, we feel that eventually HealthCare IT solutions must move to cloud platforms with due importance to security and confidentiality of EMR data. This will not only facilitate cost reduction but also allow faster and accurate diagnosis by expert doctors to lend their clinical diagnosis via access to cloud!
Telemedicine is another area which holds immense potential to improve patient care in a geographical vast country like India where most of the medical experts are located in cities but patients are in far flung rural areas! At present telemedicine is “audio visual” consultation and a good starting point but eventually, it needs to translate to flow of clinical information from patient end to doctors and diagnosis from doctors end to patients after due review and analysis! Keep a watch as SoftLink as it will be releasing a telemedicine platform for cardiology very shortly.