How Startups Are Trying To Overcome India’s Healthcare Challenges – Forbes

Indian medical staff attend to a child admitted in the Encephalitis ward at The Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on August 12, 2017. At least 60 children have died over five days at a government hospital in northern India that suffered oxygen shortages. (SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite its rapid economic growth, India has witnessed a surge in diseases capable of adversely affecting the health of its population. Rising prosperity, where the proportion of people living in poverty fell by half in 25 years leading to 2016, has been marked by a “dual-disease burden” — a continuing rise in communicable diseases and a spurt in non-communicable or “lifestyle” diseases, which accounted for 60% of all deaths in 2015, from 42% in 2001-03.

Meanwhile, healthcare has become one of India’s largest sectors, both in terms of revenue and employment. Research by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India indicates the size of the industry will reach $160 billion by 2017 and $280 billion by 2020. But despite this growth, India’s healthcare sector faces numerous challenges in trying to effectively serve its 1.3 billion population.

Not Enough Spent On Healthcare

As per data from 2014, India spends just 4.7% of GDP on healthcare, whereas China spends 5.6 times more, with the U.S. 125 times more. Around 62% of health expenses incurred by Indians was met using personal savings, called “out-of-pocket expenses,” compared with 13.4% in the U.S., 10% in the UK and 54% in China.

Urban Vs. Rural Divide

According to a KPMG report, the majority of Indian healthcare professionals are concentrated around urban areas where consumers have higher spending power, leaving rural areas under served. While India meets the global average in number of physicians, nearly 75% of dispensaries, 60% of hospitals and 80% of doctors are located in urban areas. Doctors cater to a third of the urban population, or no more than 442 million people.

File photo shows Indians waiting outside the emergency room at the Government Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)

Poor Health Infrastructure

There is one government doctor for every 10,189 people, one government hospital bed for every 2,046 people and one state-run hospital for every 90,343 people. In comparison to these dismal numbers, the US has 24.5 doctors for every 10,000 people and one hospital bed for every 345 citizens. India also has a shortage of specialist doctors at rural community health centres (CHCs), according to Indian government health and family welfare statistics.

Low levels Of Health Insurance

Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) has stated that India has one of the lowest levels of per capita healthcare expenditure in the world. Government contribution to insurance stands at roughly 32%, as opposed to 83.5% in the UK. The high out-of-pocket expenses in India stem from the fact that 76% of Indians do not have health insurance.

Preventive Care

As home remedies are a part and parcel of life in India, they are often preferred over immediate doctor consultations and almost every household has someone to offer healthcare advice. However, the authenticity of information offered is often debatable. To create awareness in this area, a startup called ‘Myupchar’  — meaning self treatment in Hindi —  gives users a range of information on ayurveda –  ”whole-body” holistic treatment – homeopathy and allopathy, to address various health and wellness-related issues, including obesity, pregnancy, women’s health and post-surgery care.

Other startups are focused 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 $600,000 from SQue Capital in June, uses machine language to customize a fitness program for users.

Diagnosis Of Illness

To enable medical services to reach rural areas, A3RMT and Neurosynaptic Communications are manufacturing light-weight equipment for measuring ECG, blood pressure, heart rate, auscultation, oxygen saturation and the temperature of a patient. It then transmits data wirelessly to doctors anywhere in the world. These machines perform quick diagnostics with little medical training and rely heavily on their patented technology to work in low-bandwidth locations in far flung corners of the country.

A3RMT, founded by engineers Shrikant Parikh and Sunil Lakdawala in 2008, has helped treat more than 56,000 patients in 450 locations in India and has saved more than 2,000 lives through emergency intervention. Neurosynaptic Communications, founded by engineers Sameer Sawarkar and Rajeev Kumar in 2003, helped treat around 250,000 patients in 2,300 villages last year alone.

Photo taken on March 26, 2014 shows an elderly patient (2nd R) waiting for a consultation with orthopeadic surgeons and specialists in joint replacement and arthoscopic surgery at the Apollo Hospital in Chennai.  (Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images)

Treatment Of Diseases

To ensure transparency in the treatment of patients, Credihealth is a medical support startup that gives guidance to the patient, from the first consultation to each stage of the treatment process. It also helps patients to find the right doctor, book appointments, request cost estimates for procedures, and helps to manage the admissions and discharge process.

What about the lack of insurance cover? What if hospitals provided you a tailored solution to plan, save and pay for non-emergency medical procedures such as those related to pregnancy, eye care, dental, plastic surgeries, orthopaedic, genetic testing and so on? That’s what Affordplan does. As Step 1 Affordplan allows a prospective patient to choose a hospital of your choice & decide the amount you need to save. In Step 2 it allows people to save on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, as per their chosen plan, and then make regular payments either by online transfer or depositing money at hospitals. Once a patient completes the savings plan, you can easily avail the medical treatment at your selected healthcare facility without the burden of upfront one time payment.It is an Innovative Financial Savings Platform. Consider it an interactive piggy bank that helps you plan and save the stack of cash even before you start with the treatment.

With such a burgeoning healthtech scene, the healthcare sector is now well placed to undergo positive change at all stages of the process — prevention, diagnosis and treatment. But it can’t be dependent on investment from the private sector and innovation from startups alone. The government needs to step up its support if public health goals are to be achieved.

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