March , 2022
Health start-ups are here to stay
21:51 pm

Pritha Misra

The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the world. It has continuously put the existing health infrastructure of the country under pressure and has also pointed out its grave condition. While there were drawbacks, the pandemic has also turned out to be an opportunity period for start-ups – especially those working in the healthcare sector.

A report published by KPMG highlighting the start-up ecosystem in India found out that the number of start-ups increased from 7000 in 2008 to 50,000 in 2020. The lockdown period was somewhat a blessing in disguise for health start-ups. Physical access to treatments and medications turned out to be difficult – giving the perfect opportunity for innovations by start-ups operating in the sector.

 It was quite challenging for the Indian healthcare system to tackle the Covid-19 situation as there were lack of hospital beds, poor medicine supply, shortage of doctors and nurses, shortage of oxygen, lack of specialized treatment etc. The problem was faced more in rural primary healthcare centres. Moreover, the increasing gap between the number of patients and healthcare facilities endorsed the need of digital technology in the sector. It was necessary to make healthcare more accessible - especially for residents of remote areas. With the increase in people depending on online medicines, doctor consultancy, telehealth and telemedicine, a lot of health start-ups strengthened their position in the market.  According to a report released in the year 2020 by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Praxis Global Alliance, the healthtech start-up industry of India stood at $1.9 billion which is expected to grow by 39% and reach $5 billion by 2023.   

Reasons behind this boost

With the worldwide lockdown and restrictions imposed on travelling and going out, it was quite impossible to get access to medicines or any kind of health support.  In such a scenario e-pharmacy, telemedicine, health consultancy over phone have proved to be the support system of the country. Popular e-pharmacies like Sastasundar, 1MG by Tata group, Netmeds by Reliance have emerged as prominent players. 

To some extent, the Indian government also holds the credit of boosting the healthcare start-ups. There were a number of policies introduced by the Indian government like e-hospital, e-Sanjeevani telemedicine service, Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojna (PMJAY) which paved the way for innovation seeking start-ups. Moreover, people found ordering medicines online to be safer as a number of online health start-ups like PharmEasy and Sastasundar provide contact-less delivery. Most of the health start-ups till date have their own apps and a very interesting feature of these apps is that it stores data of almost all consumers across the globe. This data, if analysed properly, can contribute to designing policies for public health. 

Why are online health start-ups so popular?

During the first and second phase of the pandemic, approximately 30% of all patients opted for telemedicine and research has found out that nearly 42 out of 160 newly initiated start-ups were from the telehealth genre. An important example could be the case of Practo, the world’s leading healthcare platform that has witnessed 16% growth in online medical consultancy during May, 2020. There are also a number of online start-ups that provide Covid-19 related products and services, apart from medicines like masks, sanitizers, PPE kits, antigen test kits etc. This accounted for almost 11% of the start-ups. The start-ups playing the key role in this segment are the AI and ML driven ones. They are engaged with keeping record of a huge number of patients during the pandemic, pandemic responses, Covid-19 progression monitoring, maintaining social distance using Bluetooth/IoT, tracing patients, remote monitoring etc.

Most of the health start-ups have made themselves technology-based to produce products and services that give instant facility to the patients as well as to other stakeholders in the healthcare system. According to Pavan Choudhury, Chairman of Medical Technology of India (MTaI) “Technology based models by start-ups and backed by AI/machine learning will help them to provide healthcare in a faster, effective and superior way.”

Steps to be taken by health start-ups

Avoiding physical touch and maintaining social distance are the two most important rules to escape the Covid-19 virus. Health start-ups should make digital surveillance the new normal which will allow them to cater their service, treat and diagnose patients without them being physically present. They must also adapt themselves to the technology of remote patient monitoring (RPM) through artificial intelligence for tracking their patients and analysing real time data. There should be globally recognized certificates like the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) or the Conformité Européenne (CE) that would ensure their mark of quality and global acceptance of their products.


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