Technologies for Healthcare Sector in India

With global revenues of an estimated $2.8 trillion, the healthcare industry is the world’s largest industry. India’s high population makes it an important player in this industry. While healthcare sector could broadly be categorized into (i) Medical diagnostics and (ii) Therapeutics, it encompasses testing, treatment, care, procedures and any other service or intervention, nursing, rehabilitative, palliative, convalescent, preventative, and/or other health related purpose or combinations thereof, including reproductive health care and emergency medical treatment, in any system of medicine. Technology for healthcare includes machinery/ equipments/ devices or methods for diagnostics as well as for therapeutics that may be used in relation to provision of healthcare services.

The healthcare sector in India is witnessing a surge of activity and the beginning of what is seen as a rapid phase of growth. Emerging healthcare segments like diagnostic chains, medical device manufactures as well as hospital chains are increasingly attracting investments from a variety of venture capitalists. Engineering will play a major role towards a better and deeper understanding of the technical challenges that surround the healthcare sector in India. Engineers can develop, adapt, and help implement the technological enablers of continuous innovations in health care.

Keeping in view the importance of above, a research study group on “Technologies for Healthcare Sector in India” was constituted comprising of Dr Rajeev Shorey as Coordinator and Dr MJ Zarabi as Member. This study relates more to the status of the healthcare sector with an emphasis on India and deals primarily with the diagnostic side of the healthcare. The objective of this report is to gain a deeper understanding of the healthcare sector with a major focus on India. The report investigates in detail both existing and emerging technologies in the healthcare sector. More specifically, the broad topics covered in the report include key factors leading to the growth of healthcare sector in India, India’s healthcare System, technologies for the healthcare sector, technical challenges that lie ahead and global medical and equipment market.

Efforts were made in obtaining information that is already available – from technologies, applications, standards to compilation of key players and their role in the healthcare sector. A day –long “Discussion Session” was held on April 3, 2010 at India International Centre, New Delhi to solicit inputs, views, comments and recommendations of concerned experts/professionals from medical fraternity, industry, academia and R&D on the subject and based on the discussions, core recommendations were prepared.

The experts have pointed out several gaps and challenges in the health care sector in India. India needs high quality medical grade equipment in all categories including hospital beds, switches, plug points etc and these are not indigenously manufactured. The challenge for Indian policy-makers is to find ways to improve upon the existing situation in the health sector and to make equitable, affordable and quality health care accessible to the population, especially the poor and the vulnerable sections of the society. There is an urgent need to document global and Indian experiences in social health insurance. Different financing options would need to be developed for different target groups. The wide differentials in the demographic, epidemiological status and the delivery capacity of health systems are a serious constraint to a nationally mandated health insurance system. Given the heterogeneity of different regions in India and the regional specifications, one would need to undertake pilot projects to gather more information about the population to be targeted under an insurance scheme and then develop options for different population groups.

The challenge for Indian policy-makers is to find ways to improve upon the existing situation in the health sector and to make equitable, affordable and quality health care accessible to the population, especially the poor and the vulnerable sections of the society. The Government should take effective steps to ensure increase in the affordability to the health insurance schemes, especially amongst the rural population. With higher insurance penetration in the country, the accessibility to quality healthcare services would greatly improve. Government should provide advantages to the private sector in terms of long term tax benefits for establishing hospitals in the rural areas.

India needs to create a conducive environment and the following recommendations have been made.

Attracting Investment

Granting infrastructure status to the healthcare sector.

Creating fiscal policies, such as providing low interest rate loans, introducing tax holidays for investment in low per capita income states, reducing import/excise duty for medical equipment, et cetera, to promote investment in healthcare services.

Facilitating various clearances and certifications such as medical registration number, etc.

Changing The Legislation

Mandating the employers to buy group or individual medical insurance for their employees to ensure a certain minimum financial coverage.

Mandating the private sector units that take advantage of improved fiscal policies, to commit resources to remote rural/under developed sectors.

Create an autonomous body to standardize on medical messaging, codes and vocabulary, content and format, identification standards and security.

Mandate the healthcare service providers to transmit select patient data to the government for analysis. This data will be analyzed to identify trends and evolve policies.

Create a national database of health care providers, their facilities and services. This will create awareness among the population towards quality health care.

Streamline the process of handling patient grievances.

Create a nation-wide agency to deal with patient requests such as ambulance hotline, emergency/first-aid consultation, trauma help-line etc.

IT initiatives

Sharing of patient information between providers, patient and payers.

Security and privacy services.

Need for standards for messaging, codes and vocabulary, content and format standards.

Summarized below are the areas of high priority in the healthcare sector that need immediate attention in India.

There is a need for scalable, cost-effective pervasive technologies for healthcare. With the convergence of Telecom and Healthcare sectors, mHealth is becoming an extremely important paradigm in India Today.

There is a dire need for cost-effective equipments and instruments for screening and diagnosis at the ‘Point of Care’.

The country needs to leverage ICT technologies to improve the state of healthcare in rural and semi-rural areas. The Government needs to provide major incentives for specialists and doctors so that they consider spending time in rural areas in the country.

The country needs to invest in medical education with an emphasis on healthcare and related sectors. There is a need to invest in training centers and polytechnics in healthcare sector so as to attempt to fill the huge demand-supply gap of specialists.

We need to invest huge amount of effort and money and ensure that citizens who cannot afford complex treatment and medicines, are provided health insurance by the state.

Venture capitalists and Angel investors in India need to support incubation centres and start-ups in the healthcare sector.

The report should be considered as an in-depth survey of the healthcare sector in India with an emphasis on ‘technologies’ and how technologies can help in improving the healthcare sector. The report will indeed serve as an actionable document for thought leaders in the Government, Industry and Academia, in India and abroad, and is likely to spawn a lot more research, innovation and incubation in the healthcare sector in the years to come.