Can Innovation in Healthcare Technology Help Poor Countries like India Achieve Healthcare Goals?

Ashish Bhatia, Founder & CEO, Headquartered in New Delhi, is a healthcare technology platform that enables patients to book quality & affordable pathology, radiology and many other diagnostic tests online via its website, mobile app, or call.

There are tremendous technology improvements underway in the healthcare domain. Every few months a new imaging machine is being launched that is touted as better than before. There are companies that may predict with reasonable accuracy, your chances of having a heart attack in the next few hours, if you let them put their wristband on you. Newer DNA based diagnostic tests are being launched every day that can identify the probability of someone catching a disease much before they actually do. There is a huge emphasis to make personalised medicine based on advanced diagnostics mainstream. Newer techniques in robotics surgery now make it easier to do complex surgeries and may not even leave a scan on the body.

All these trends are very good for human race as a whole. However, for a country like India, we are still struggling with last century issues of affordable access to simple healthcare. Are there advances in healthcare technology that can help a relatively poor country like India? Thankfully, the answer is yes. India needs healthcare solutions that are reliable, portable and cheaper. We need innovation that can deliver the benefits to the poor masses. We will cover a few examples here which give us reason for hope. More importantly, some of these new healthcare technology products are being developed in India for the world.

Sepsis or septicaemia is the number one killer disease for in hospital patients worldwide. More than 100,000 patients die in India alone due to sepsis. This disease strikes the most vulnerable ICU patients. Unfortunately, there is no reliable and fast method to diagnose sepsis. The current method gives results in over 48 hours and the technique is very expensive which most patients cannot
afford. Doctors rely on their intuition and start the patient with broad spectrum antibiotics to fight sepsis. The patient may die of sepsis or the patient may die of the heavy burden that the antibiotics put on the body. A diagnostic method which identifies the infection at the very start (before explicit symptoms are visible), and is low cost may come in very handy to save the lives of many.

A diagnostic method which identifies the infection at the very start (before explicit symptoms are visible), and is low cost may come in very handy to save the lives of many

A research team in IIT Delhi is working on a handheld device to diagnose sepsis at patient bedside at the start of the infection - reliably and very quickly. This device at a later stage may also be able to suggest the best antibiotic to be used on the patient. The initial trials of the device are very promising. This new technology will not only be cheap, it will also be a significant improvement on the existing, very costly diagnostic methods. This is an example of healthcare innovation which is frugal but best in class worldwide.

Similarly, a few other Indian companies are working on making diagnostic testing portable. Routine blood tests like sugar test, liver function test and even typhoid detection can be done at the patient’s side. The cost of these portable tests is much lower than the traditional lab based testing methods and the results are available almost instantly. Imagine that now you will not need to send your blood samples to the lab for testing. You can do the test at home or at your doctor’s clinic. These devices are a boon for crores of Indians living in rural areas without much access to diagnostics.

Worldwide, there is also a focus on making some healthcare diagnostics portable and more economical. One of the most useful imaging machines is an ultrasound machine. However, due the size of the machine, rural and remote communities of Indians are not able to get simple ultrasounds done which leads to loss of life. An American healthcare technology company has recently received FDA approval for their handheld ultrasound device which is almost as good as the full ultrasound machine. This machine is portable, low weight and can fit in a small bag.

If we look at the above examples where simple healthcare technology is now reaching patients’ homes or villages, this in itself has potential to change the healthcare delivery landscape for good. If we combine this will telecom and data revolution that this country is seeing, things look even better. The results of the portable diagnostic tests can be sent to any city in the country with ease. There are so many online doctor consultation portals, that armed with this data, can help in remote consultation.

There is a tendency to compare per capita health spend in India with per capita health spend in western countries. While this number does tell us that we need to do more on healthcare spend, but we should not try to reach western numbers. We should look at cost effective solutions that deliver high quality healthcare. Thankfully, some researchers and startups are using healthcare innovation to prove that both can be had simultaneously.