“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are rapidly making forays into healthcare”

karan thakur

Startups in the healthcare industry have taken the lead in offering cutting-edge solutions for problems that have dominated the industry. Numerous start-ups have tackled important problems such as telemedicine, access to medications, diagnostics etc. Delving deep into the discussions Dr Karan Thakur, Vice President – Public Affairs, Apollo Hospitals Group had an in-depth conversation with Kaanchi Chawla of Elets News Network (ENN). Edited excerpts:

What position do you think Indian healthcare start-ups are in right now, and how are they doing?

Start-ups in the healthcare domain have been leading the way in providing contemporary solutions for issues that have dominated the sector. In keeping with the purists approach towards problems around access, equity, uniformity, quality, and affordability, many start-ups have been able to unpack issues and offer credible solutions. Going forward, I am confident that many of these innovative companies will help in addressing multiple issues that can form a critical part of India’s journey towards health for all.

Over the past few years, healthcare has seen a dramatic evolution. New developments and trends in the healthcare sector are being developed by start-ups in that sector. Do you believe the healthcare services offered by start-ups to patients are of high quality?

Like in any industry, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Many start-ups have addressed critical issues like telemedicine, access to drugs, first responders or ambulances, diagnostics, etc, or at the patientallied end like electronic medical records, digital identification, continuity of care, etc. Both these approaches are the need of the hour, and many companies today scale to different geographies without compromising on service or product quality. Having said that, there have been issues that patients have reported on from time to time which indicate that many companies, while with the right intent, may not have solutions a problem adequately well or face challenges on the execution front.

Do you believe Artificial Intelligence is making a sufficient contribution to the expansion of start-up healthcare companies in India?

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are rapidly making forays into healthcare. This is a welcome step as the vast quantity of data that is generated from patient care episodes needs to be analysed and interpreted to align appropriate resources and services to the healthcare needs of citizens and consumers. For far too long, India has generated healthcare data that is of uneven quality and, has not been tapped into for insights that can help design better care. AI and ML now offer a chance for the sector to overcome this issue in the years ahead. But one word of caution, AI and ML are developing at a fast pace, and there needs to be adequate protection and safety architecture put in place to ensure that we are not just being guided by code by in fact using these technologies as adjuncts to care which is delivered by clinicians and not just machines.

Hospitals and doctors may streamline operations, engage patients, streamline procurement procedures, and more with the help of digital care ecosystems provided by health tech start-ups. What are your thoughts on it?

The benefit of technology interfacing with hospitals’ processes and patient-facing services will ensure better access to care and create efficiencies in operations. From very basic appointments and queueing solutions to clinical decision support tools, all are important to ensure effective patient care. Similarly, given the rise of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD’s) which require life-cycle management over years, the need to use technologies to ensure the continuity of appropriate care will become important. Lastly, innovations in wearables, home monitoring technologies, and integration of multiple patient data points will be critical in the disease and health management of a diverse population like India’s.

What opportunities and threats do you think Indian start-ups in the healthcare industry face?

Multiple opportunities exist for Indian start-ups, telehealth, disease management & clinical support, service access, payor management, EMR, home healthcare, supply chain management, and sustainability & decarbonisation. These opportunities all tie into the larger gamut of health issues that continue to plague the sector, which includes access, quality, equity, affordability, and sustainable development. It is hoped that innovators will tap into these opportunities keeping in mind the larger issues that affect the sector and the patients.

However, it also would be prudent to add that many seemingly simple problems in healthcare are actually vexatious issues and therefore, adequate forethought, solutions architecture, and the ability to integrate with systems and processes within hospitals or the larger healthcare eco-system will be critical. In terms of threats, the current geopolitical and economic situation has made fund-raising and access to capital scarce, the so called funding winter. While this will help in weeding out the wheat from the chaff, it will be a loss to the sector if good innovations cannot see the light of day for a large section of India for lack of funds. Another threat remains the fragmented nature of healthcare delivery in India, which varies across systems, geographies, and socio-economic determinants. Therefore, start-ups will need to be mindful of these realities when creating solutions or planning to scale up.

How did this year go for Indian healthcare start-ups? What are their expectations for the future, and where do they envision themselves as 2023 draws closer?

It has been an encouraging year for healthcare start-ups with unicorns being created at a rapid clip. Along with this, the patient acceptance of many solutions ranging from diagnostics, e-pharmacies, home care, EMR’s, clinical decision support, and access services like ambulances, etc. are all encouraging signs of the initiation of a phase for many companies. The economic and geo-political headwinds notwithstanding, it is hoped that along with this phase of maturity, scaling up and deep-seating of healthcare solutions amongst patients, newer innovations are witnessed in 2023.

What do you think about the current state and prospects for your organisation in the digitally driven healthcare ecosystem?

We at Apollo have made digital a critical pillar for all our operations and services. Whether it is quality outcomes or the patient experience, digital is driving our strategy and operational deployment. Last year, we created India’s largest digital health service place called Apollo 24/7. This platform offers comprehensive, end-to-end health services that we believe will transform the way healthcare is offered and used. Similarly, our telemedicine network is offering millions of patients access to our quality services from the comfort of their homes. Even within hospitals, the drive for using AI/ ML technologies, clinical decision support tools, and predictive healthcare are all core to our hospitals. We hope that through these interventions, we not only create the ‘digital dividend’ for our patients and organisation, but also help create a sustainable health ecosystem that can reduce our carbon footprint while improving access and outcomes.


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