COVID-19 was a boon for the Indian healthcare startup sector in terms of accelerating the integration of medical care delivery, patient diagnosis, and the digitisation of access to healthcare. With rapid developments in global healthcare making headlines in the past few decades, digitisation of healthcare is in its nascent stage in India.

COVID-19 sped a dramatic evolution of digital healthcare services like appointment scheduling, patient diagnosis, e-consultation, etc, with Indians welcoming the revolutionary telemedicine with over 61 per cent of e-consultations in 2021 in comparison to only 21 per cent in 2017. Additionally, Indian healthcare startups grew to 7,819 in 2022, thus implying that more than high-quality services, the existence of democritisation of healthcare is vital.

Healthcare startups like Clirnet, Tata Digital Health, PharmEasy, Niramai, VivaLyf, Netmeds, etc. are advancing technological innovations in finding, preventing, and curing diseases. Some services offered by these homegrown digital healthcare startups fall across verticals like virtual clinics, mental health monitoring, facilitating informed decision-making, e-consultation, and more. Isn’t this a dramatic evolution considering where things started? In fact, high-quality services among these verticals can be well-measured with the emerging democratisation of healthcare in a country as diverse as India.

The Indian healthcare sector is set to grow at a CAGR of $39 by 2023, thanks to the emerging digital healthcare startups and their unique services catering to patients from various income brackets. While startups are trying to replicate top-notch global technologies, one must understand that they are rigorously bridging the gap – of disparities in accessibility – their success is heavily reliant on the adaptability quotient.

Utilisation of digital technology in hospitals

Indian hospitals and doctors, assisted by digital healthcare apps, have streamlined several processes in the workflow, including treatment scheduling, patient handling, remote diagnosis, and enhancing procurement. Let’s view the utilisation of digital technology in streamlining workflows through their implementation in medical institutions:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – AI has been applied in both treatment and future care responses with digital healthcare startups working towards improving efficiency in clinical decisionmaking, information processing, 3D contouring of patients, analysis through CT scans for early detection of diseases, radiotherapy, etc.
  • Machine Learning (ML) – ML is not confined to physical health diagnosis anymore as Indian digital healthcare startups were utilising it to track mental health during the pandemic. While currently applied for the prediction of suicidal symptoms, loneliness, and depression, ML has great potential to transform clinical understanding of other persistent mental conditions among larger populations
  • Internet Of Things (IoT) – IoT has simplified healthier living for busy individuals through real-time monitoring of heartbeat, blood pressure, etc. Especially, the fast-paced adoption of wearable IoT like bio-sensors and ECG monitors developed by digital healthcare startups has enabled Indians to take health into their hands for good, quite literally. The popularity of IoT in healthcare can be gauged from the fact that Indian digital healthcare startups are in the process of engineering IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) devices and applications with a vision of connecting healthcare systems directly to patients for ensuring real-time intervention.

Opportunities and Threats

Some of the biggest threats or challenges concerning Indian digital healthcare startups:

  • Steep competition in terms of navigating appropriate customer segments
  • Shortage of reciprocal partnerships and investments toward digital healthcare manufacture and delivery
  • Ensuring digital access to the remotest areas
  • Integration of legacy software, healthcare infrastructure, and digital patient care
  • Grassroots-level counselling to address behavioural tendencies hindering the standardisation of the adoption of digital healthcare technologies
  • Clinical data storage, privacy, handling, and management

The opportunities ahead for the Indian digital healthcare startup sector are:

  • Vibrant adoption of e-consultation forming the pivot for potential home-based services
  • Urgent need for healthcarebased products, technologies,
    and even content aggregators
  • Birthing of ‘lifestyle management careers

Views expressed by Saurav Kasera, Co-Founder, CLIRNET

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