Key health-tech innovations

We need create an ecosystem for continuous service for the patients of from all tiers

Health-tech sector, Innovation, Make in India campaign, Prosthetics and wearable device industry, AI

India’s healthcare sector has been considered as one of the fastest growing sectors and the Indian Government has aggressive plans to further develop the existing sector into a global healthcare hub, attempting to utilise its relatively lower priced treatment options.

The Government has initiated a fundamental change in its role from being a care provider (hospitals) to also becoming an insurance provider, as is evident from the proposal in Union Budget 2018 of a health protection scheme of Rs 5 lakh health insurance cover to 50 crore poor and vulnerable individuals, covering around 40% of the Indian population. Localised design and fabrication has allowed the manufacturing and production of healthcare and medical devices to be at a much more cheaper rate as compared to the existing international supply chain.

However, the adoption of technology is at a nascent stage in India. One of the first steps towards this transformation will be to use technology as the lever to break the silos and for tight coupling of data with providers and caregivers, and to encourage and enable an ecosystem of free data flow and interchange.

Key challenges within the health-tech sector
Developing countries such as India are confronted with a host of daunting challenges such as poverty, malnutrition and an enormous disease burden, all of which are interconnected in a vicious circle—poverty leads to malnutrition, leading to illness.

The health-tech space is compliance intensive which makes the product development process very delicate and longer than usual. It is cash-intensive during the research and development process which increases its risk percentage amongst investors. As per the research conducted by ISB Insight Volume 9 Issue, 2 on the hurdles in healthcare innovations in India, two prime causes of concern are i) healthcare human resources and ii) healthcare finance.

Healthcare innovations is where India has a severe shortage of qualified health workers and the workforce is concentrated in urban areas. The migration of qualified physicians and nurses is substantial. The resources to train nurses are still inadequate. Privatisation of medical institutes and its governing departments will result such issues are a result of underinvestment in and poor governance of the health sector, the business and organisational challenge for innovator is how to utilise the existing human resources and connect them with technology and teaching them at least the minimalistic use of it and providing them access to doctors and healthcare facility present in the urban area through means of cloud or other software services.

Taking healthcare finance into consideration, the low per-person spending on health and insufficient public expenditure result in one of the highest proportions of private out-of-pocket expenses in the world. India’s population is widely suffering from lack of medical cover. The condition on the ground is really baffling as only 10 % of the population is actually covered by some form of medical insurance.

India is also a price-sensitive market so the challenge for the innovators is to make a balanced product in-terms of quality technology and pricing around it. India has primarily been importing medical devices and technology from the North American market and distributing them locally either to individuals or organisations leading to increased price point and a longer period of distribution in the existing supply chain. To give an example, many of the parts that used to produce hand prostheses in India are still imported from overseas countries in Europe and North America. The imported devices are not fabricated as per the standards of the tropical climate and that results in excessive tear and early rejection of the product along with price point being a major issue.

Along with these points, the availability of materials, resources and skilled personnel, together with a variety of cultural considerations makes developing prosthetics and other healthcare-oriented products a difficult challenge in its own.

Tech innovations that India needs

The introduction of the Make in India campaign has escalated the pace of the manufacturing as it has shown growth to 25% GDP from the current 16%. Alongside this, the emergence of digital manufacturing inclusive of additive, advance additive manufacturing and computer-aided designing method has allowed innovators to produce rapid prototypes and mass customisation challenging the traditional manufacturing methodology.  India saw significant growth in investments in health-tech companies as it reached $571 million in 2018, according to Traxcn data.

The emergence in the hardware-oriented start-ups though the growth has been on the slower side there has been a significant increase in the number of hardware technology and precisely healthcare technology is a promising sign, ranging from wearable devices to other medical devices.

Partnerships such as the collaboration between NASSCOM with GE to escalate healthcare for technology innovation tells us that technology adoption in the Indian healthcare sector is poised for substantial growth.
A number of multi-million medical device conglomerates are slowly entering and partnering with government or young start-ups due to the increasing use of exponential technology. There has been a growing focus on the digital application in the field of for early detection, productivity solutions, and remote and connected care among others.

Considering the development has been on both software and hardware vertical companies have been working progressively in Management Information System (MIS) for healthcare providers along with latest advancements in technology like cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) blockchain and growth in hardware technology has enabled the healthcare industry to adopt disruptive technology-led service and business models.
Similarly, clean water, vaccination, portable hospitals, wearable and assistive devices requirement is a pressing issue in the low-income and rural communities and seeing the potential market that the Indian community offers, health tech start-ups has really been focusing on these issues.

Disruptions in the med-tech sector

Healthcare has always been a challenge in India, with over a billion people to cater and lack of latest technology and facilities people have no other choice to look for private organizations for good healthcare facilities. With the rapid rise of the middle class and increased usage of the Internet and mobile broadband, there is a high demand for quality and affordable healthcare in India.

Cloud computing is perhaps one of the most innovative products in healthcare technology today. The cloud uses hardware and software to deliver services via the internet. In this case, the files can be the host from anywhere locally and can be accessed by the admin, allowing the professionals operating in rural areas to relay information from remote areas to the urban sector.

Autodesk has been focusing on nurturing young start-ups and Individuals who wish to design and fabricate hardware products and have been working on their software to make it more industry-friendly the software Fusion 360 3D CAD software has an exceptional ability to design real-like renders and designs giving the user an idea before prototyping designs using 3D printing or other methods. Fusion 360 has recently introduced generative design an AI-based tool to improve the structural integrity of the design. Fusion 360’s manufacturing features make it a great tool for hardware developers—it’s even free for start-ups.

In the prosthetics and wearable device industry, the traditional method of socket fabrication requires casting technique which in itself is a time and labour intensive process and one workshop requires facility to cater such methodology in which bandage is to be wetted and rolled around the residual limb of the patient, once hardened, this cast is then removed from the limb and filled with a liquid moulding plaster that forms a positive model of the limb. The timeline starting from understanding the condition of amputees residual limb to finalising on the casting of the socket it is a lengthy two-week process.

To reduce the time consumption and minimise the error probability while manually doing casting the 3D scanning technology has drastically reduced the time required to produce bespoke sockets for prosthetic limbs. However, by using a handheld 3D scanner rather than a traditional plaster cast, a full 360-degree scan of a residual limb can be created in around 30 seconds and then used to generate a 3D printable socket using 3DCAD software in a matter of hours. 

Possible impact of such innovations

The positive impact of technology in healthcare is clear. Hospitals that make a digital transition experience all of these benefits of healthcare technology, trends and innovation. Making the move towards digitising the medical records, integrating promising technology promises a higher calibre of care and support for the patients.

Embracing digital healthcare services facilitates, the introduction of a cutting-edge digital platform, improved operational efficiency, adopting an integrated approach to the patient, enhancing capacity for innovation and reduced cost has drastically upgraded the healthcare ecosystem.

In the prosthetics industry, the exponential development of technology has not only impacted the lives of the patient but also upgraded the knowledge bracket for the various centres, introduced various job opportunity in prosthetic technician field.

The role of incubators
The primary role of any incubator is primarily to help nascent companies - by providing resources, access to industry mentors, interactions with other entrepreneurs and perhaps most importantly, patient capital, to get through the survival stage.

It is worth noting that around 60% of all technology start-ups fail within the first three years but 87% of start-ups nurtured by incubators are still in business five years after launch, according to research by the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA). Institutions that focus on identifying and nurturing innovations often provide high-quality mentorship that would otherwise have been inaccessible to the typical pre-seed, pre-product company, as very few first-time entrepreneurs have both the business contacts and start-up capital required to succeed.

Here, in addition to funding and networking opportunities incubators like International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology (iCreate) offers entrepreneurs benefit that includes office space & amenities, mentorship programs, networking, access to industry experts and third-party finance, training and access to state-of-the-art prototyping tools that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for most start-up companies.

The growth in technology has definitely impacted the healthcare sector and we are seeing an exponential rise in terms of accessibility and deliverables within the field,  but there are many hurdles to overcome in order to provide remote areas with access to technology and care that they truly deserve, our role as innovators is to not only make an efficient product but create an ecosystem for continuous service for the patients of from all tiers. All innovators in the field of healthcare are interlinked with their innovations and it will be interesting to see the innovations that come through but more than that how these innovations will be implemented is something we have to keep an eye on.

Abhit Kumar Sharma & Cameron Norris, iCreate cohort members and co-founders, Social Hardware International Pvt. Ltd