Eshika Arora, Innovation Forum Intern, NATHEALTH- Healthcare Federation of India
Although it may seem like there is no end in sight, once a majority of the globe is either vaccinated or has Covid antibodies, the COVID 19 pandemic will cease to exist. The healthcare industry and the Indian Government must begin preparation to face the challenges and leverage the opportunities of a post-pandemic world now. The gaps in Indian healthcare infrastructure that the pandemic has brought to light will live on, and on a more positive note, the trend of digital health, accelerated by the pandemic, will continue to gain traction as consumers have already witnessed its advantages.
Some potential solutions to the gaps in the healthcare industry’s Covid response effort are already either in development or deployment. For example, remote patient monitoring solutions to overcome the shortage of healthcare workers and the excessive burden on them, point of care diagnostics and online consultations to allow patients to receive diagnosis and treatment advice from the safe confines of their homes, and digitization solutions to improve operational efficiency and cost-effectively expand healthcare into tier 2 and tier 3 cities. These examples also reflect the broad transition to “digital health” and “health at home”, especially relevant in a country where digital penetration is on a rapid advance.
Now, healthcare corporates must externally support or internalize the development of solutions that address their patient’s unmet needs and changing preferences for the mode of delivery of healthcare in order to stay relevant in the face of competition and to safeguard against future health crises. Here is where the role of the healthcare startup ecosystem, which is working on cutting-edge solutions to meet healthcare needs, comes in. When compared to corporates, startups have the intent, commitment, and know-how necessary to develop innovative solutions at a much quicker and efficient pace. At the same time, startups lack what corporates have in terms of funding, a trusted customer base, clinical experience, and regulatory approval. There are more than 3000 health tech startups in India, out of which only a minute percentage have achieved the growth necessary to sustain their businesses. The innovation dilemma of corporates and the growth dilemma of startups can be resolved through a mutually beneficial arrangement of co-innovation- healthcare corporates and startups collaborating to develop and deploy relevant solutions.
Such partnerships are not unrealistic ideals- Roche, a leading diagnostics company, has successfully collaborated with the startup Wellthy Therapeutics to provide an AI based guidance app for those with type 2 diabetes. Similarly, Apollo Hospitals currently has an agreement with the startup Anatomiz3D Medtech to establish 3D printing labs within its hospitals for creating anatomical models for pre-surgical planning and more. The leading chain of hospitals is soon hoping to transform this relationship into a joint venture. At the same time, however, there are many barriers to establishing such partnerships which is why much fewer exist than we would expect. Some of the barriers are absence of a clear corporate commitment to open innovation, difficulty faced by startups in getting connected to top corporate decision makers, and cultural differences between the organizations.
To overcome these barriers and leverage the advantages of co-innovation, a credible, effective, and transparent forum between the healthcare industry and the healthcare startup ecosystem must be set up; a forum where leaders from both sides can regularly communicate their needs and expectations from partnerships, negotiate deals, and take required action. The forum must also in some way include and involve the government in order to facilitate regulatory understanding, to direct focus on affordability of solutions to increase access, and to bring in needed funding whenever possible. In short, through facilitating partnerships with industry members, the forum can assist startups in various ways, including acquiring seed funding and rapidly testing their innovations, thereby creating pathways to scale for innovations needed to address gaps in Indian healthcare.