India’s health-tech startups: A game changer for health sector

Technology focused start-ups are changing the face of India's vast infrastructure and investment hungry healthcare industry with their innovative solutions and in the process attracting strong investment interest

January 20, 2018

Growing at a rate of 28 per cent, health tech startups are attracting the maximum amount of new investments in the Indian startup space, along with fintech outfits

According to a NASSCOM study, over the last 2-3 years, health technology in India has significantly moved from the status of ‘Good to have’ to that of ‘Must have’

Last year, health-tech segment attracted the maximum amount of new investments in the Indian startup space along with financial technology (fintech) outfits

Around 54 per cent of healthtech startups in India either already have or are currently incorporating AI and 37 per cent are building IoT components into their products

Technology focused startups are changing the face of India’s vast healthcare industry with their innovative solutions. Growing at a rate of 28 per cent year-on-year, these startups, based on the latest technology platforms such as Artificial Intelligence (AI),  Internet of things (IoT), robotics and data analytics are addressing long-standing challenges of making healthcare affordable, accessible and quality driven. Building on this, last year, the health-tech segment attracted the maximum amount of new investments in the Indian startup space along with financial technology (fintech) outfits. A startup is an entrepreneurial venture which is typically a newly emerged, fast-growing business that aims to meet a marketplace need through innovative products, services, processes or platforms. They are playing an increasingly important role, not just in India’s economy, but globally.

Expanding scope of health technology

Over the past three years, health tech startups have upped the game and are trying to resolve issues around lifestyle diseases, which currently accounts for a large percentage of deaths in the country. The startups are chasing cures for heart problems, obesity and diabetes, mental stress, early diagnosis of genetic disorders and even reducing the after-effects of chemotherapy. Earlier, health-tech firms had solely focussed on providing diagnostic, enterprising and medicine delivery solutions. However, new technologies and favourable support systems along with fast-growing demand for disruptive solutions have widened the operations of these health-tech outfits.

In India, where doctor-patient ratio still hovers around 1:1,700 , it is becoming increasingly crucial to take healthcare to remote villages through tele-medicine; to create awareness about various modern and affordable healthcare options; and to bring timely and necessary healthcare services to the patient’s doorstep India’s health-tech startups are tackling all these issues and many more.

A study by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) titled, “Healthtech in India, are we there yet?” points out: “In the last 2-3 years, health-tech in India has significantly moved from ‘Good to have’ to ‘Must have.’” This is largely due to the Government’s impetus towards digitalisation and the introduction of the National Health Policy. Besides the critical role that health-tech companies already play in India, there is much more potential in this sector as the healthcare industry is expected to touch a value of US$280 billion by 2020. The estimate is based on the funding they received from venture capitalists (VC) and private equity (PE) firms last year.

The focus for health-tech statups is now starting to shift towards prevention with several startups working on technologies for wellness, early detection and medical care solutions for diseases

Increasing investor interest

According to Chennai based research firm, Venture Intelligence, 31 PE/VC investments were made in this sector amounting to a total value of US$227 million in 2017, up from US$141 million in 2016. The largest PE investment of US$65 million was made in Visionary RCM, a medical billing RCM service by the USA-based Carlyle Group. Meanwhile, Practo Technologies, a consumer-facing doctor/clinic discovery, online doctor consultation and medicine delivery platform, raised US$55 million in a funding led by China’s Tencent Holdings. CureFit, based out of the wellness sector, bagged another US$25 million from Kalaari Capital, IDG Ventures India, Accel India and UC-RNT Fund.

This investment trend is encouraging as in the recent past e-commerce, aggregators, wellness platforms have typically been investors’ favourite. However, gradually tech-enabled diagnostics (for better disease prognosis, early detection and remote diagnosis) as well as remote-consultation solutions are becoming popular.  These solutions have significant relevance in the global markets as well, since they solve critical healthcare challenges common across a number of geographies.

Health-tech spreading its presence

Health-tech startups in India have diversified to cover a wide spectrum of matters, ranging from those offering tech-assisted diagnosis solutions such as HRS Navigation, to Niramai, an AI-based non-invasive breast cancer screening solution. Meanwhile, a 3D printing firm, Osteo3D, which develops patient-specific 3D printed organs using proprietary software algorithm and MapmyGenome, is helping analyse genomic data to provide insights into an individual’s health, traits, lifestyle and drug responses.

Pertinently, health-tech startups are emerging at a time when the most modern technologies are gaining traction in India such as consumer-centric mobile applications, cloud storage, IoT for M2M connectivity and aggregation of data for advanced algorithms to run and provide personalization. For instance, Mumbai-based Qure.ai is developing deep learning technology to help diagnose disease and recommend personalised treatment plans from healthcare imaging data to customers. Technology is helping Qure.ai to automatically interpret X-rays, CT scans and MRIs to make radiology diagnosis much faster and significantly more accurate. 

Reiterating that AI is transforming the way healthcare is handled in India, Prashant Warier, co-founder and CEO of Qure.ai pointed out, “Technology is changing so fast that in future you might just be warned before you are likely to come down with disease and can take pre-emptive action. Or, through ingestible sensors, you might be able to analyze the biochemical composition of your stomach and an algorithm may tell you what you should be eating to remain healthy. The future is about personal health management through automation”.
 

Prevention over cure for healthtech

The focus for health-tech statups is now starting to shift towards prevention with several startups working on technologies for wellness, early detection and medical care solutions for diseases. Mental Health is also drawing attention with solutions backed by AI-based conversational chatbots, collaboration platforms and remote counselling. For instance, Bengaluru-based EasyM2M has devised a smartwatch for location tracking, fall detection and rescue for dementia and alzheimer’s patients. Many are also focusing on improving the fitness level of Indians. GrowFitter is a machine learning-powered platform that directs its users to multiple fitness options including yoga, dance and kickboxing. The firm, which raised US$600,000 from SQue Capital in June, uses machine language to customise a fitness program for users.

Rising foreign technology collaboration

Indian health-tech startups are not averse to tie up with foreign companies to tap the latest in technology and innovation. For example, Bangalore-based Teleradiology Solutions has entered a partnership with Zebra Medical Vision, an Israeli company working on AI to employ analytics across 150 health-care centres. AI in radiology will allow automatic and intelligent detection of cancer, stroke, fractures and other medical conditions. According to a NASSCOM study, 54 per cent of healthtech startups in India either already have or are currently incorporating AI into their product and 37 per cent are building IoT components into their products.

Healthtech bringing crucial change

The challenges facing the health tech sector involve resistance to change from hospitals and other stakeholders of the medical fraternity. Lack of digitised health records, access to medical data to train machines, reliance on ‘people more than technology’, are other issues currently preventing this sector from scaling up to the need of the age. However, the Indian Government has launched the National Health Policy 2017, which has extensive recommendations on the usage of digital health tools and the setting up of a National Digital Health Authority might just work as a necessary push for this sector. With Government support and mentorship from the ecosystem, the health-tech startups are expected to push the frontiers of technologies such as IoT, AI, blockchain, and AR/VR and come up with innovative, game-changing products for India’s healthcare industry.