India Inc India Inc: Tuesday, 12 May 2015 12:54

Tech Speak with Nitin Dahad - Health 2.0: Tech transforms healthcare

by Nitin Dahad

Healthcare costs are rising globally as populations grow and the real costs of many treatments also increase significantly, particularly for chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. But with the ubiquity of mobile connectivity together with the proliferation of smartphones, there will be a radically new shift in healthcare that will both challenge and shake up the traditional healthcare and pharmaceutical industry.

And in just the same way that India was able to leapfrog some interim technologies in the telecoms and mobile sector, there is likely to be similar advances in the healthcare sector in the country due to the same dynamics. This will be particularly so in technology being used to monitor, prevent and treat various conditions. I recently met two UK-India companies doing just this, Diabetacare and CyberLiver; many such companies also talked about the personalisation of medicine and treatments at the recent inaugural India BioConclave at Imperial College in London.

Background – the democratisation of medicine

Health and wellbeing is a key area where technology can potentially innovate monitoring and diagnostics, and delivery of treatment. But the traditional healthcare industry, which includes the pharmaceutical companies, doesn’t appear ready for it – or so we are told by the organisers of the 6th annual Health 2.0 Conference this month in Barcelona, Spain.

At the conference, delegates will explore everything from gamification to help enhance wellness goals for patients, to integrating technology in tools for care in hospitals, how doctors access data and how they engage to treat patients. It will also look at the startups and investors playing in this space.

In fact in his book published in 2012, ‘The Creative Destruction of Medicine’, author Eric Topol talked about medicine being about to face its biggest shakeup in history. He said that it is now vital for consumers to be engaged since all other players – such as doctors, the life science industry, government and health insurers – are incapable of catalysing this transformation capability of technology.

His subsequent book, ‘The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands’, refers to a new era of consumer empowerment, in which individuals can use mobile technology for self-monitoring. This self-generated data – whether it is blood pressure, blood glucose, or anything else – can be analysed locally by a smartphone app and also send immediate alerts to skilled physicians or consultants should corrective action or proper expert diagnosis be needed.

A key factor in this next generation health technology is to have a holistic look at the human/patient experience, and the ecosystems around them. For example, public health players can create a new landscape for interoperability by leveraging an EMR (electronic medical records) system built on open source software – since some experts believe existing EMR platforms are over two decades old and struggling to keep up pace because of their archaic architectures, millions of lines of code and minimal to no differentiation to their client base today.

Smart EMR platforms could to open up their API’s (application programming interfaces), integrate body generated and genomics data combined with environmental data at a personalized level, so that precision medicine can be provided at point of care.

Technology companies looking to revolutionise care in India

Looking to address this need, HealthStart was set up as India’s first accelerator program dedicated to supporting startups in the healthcare industry through funding, mentorship and other requisite support. It also recently announced it is setting up a new sector-focused angel network to support companies that have gone through its program and are in need of further funding. According to the founder and chairman Pradeep K. Jaisingh, the network will comprise 100 professionals from domains like pharmaceutical, diagnostics, hospitals, devices as well as from private equity and venture capital.

This angel network will focus on technology, mobile applications, chronic disease management, preventive healthcare and ecommerce, and will make a handful of investments of up to Indian Rupees 10-20 million during the next year.

This follows on from a similar initiative announced earlier this year offering grants to Indian healthcare startups. StartHealth was launched in February 2015 by Unitus Seed Fund, Pfizer Inc., PATH, Manipal Hospitals and Narayana Health. It provides up to Indian Rupees 100 million in grants and investments to very early-stage startups seeking to enhance access to affordable technology-driven healthcare products and services for the low-income masses in India.

The program offers for-profit healthcare startups non-dilutive capital, hands-on support, access to expert advisors, medical facilities, and seed venture capital, enabling them to more efficiently and effectively complete development and scale their operations in India.

Examples – diabetes care and liver condition monitoring

Health and wellness monitoring, and the rise of the ‘consumer health interface’ is a major focus for many emerging tech startup companies today, both in the UK and India as well as globally.

Diabetes, for example, affects more than 347 million people worldwide, and around 65 million people in India. According to a recent report, more than half the people with the condition in India today aren’t aware that they have it. It is thought diabetes will affect more than 100 million people in India by 2030, and that around 126 trillion Rupees would be spent in India between 2012 and 2030 on cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and mental health.

There is potential for improvement in monitoring as well as cost savings on treatment of diabetes through preventative care. One company doing just this in India is Diabetacare, which uses technology, machine to machine communications, and a network of trained clinicians to provide management of diabetes with a proactive, personalised and holistic approach that not only includes medical advice, but also helps implement changes in the lifestyle of the affected individual.

The company’s technology also monitors a number of health complications that can arise due to unchecked level of diabetes – such as diabetic retinopathy (leading to blindness), diabetic nephropathy (leading to kidney failure requiring dialysis), and diabetic neuropathy (leading to amputation and loss of limbs). Unlike many technology only companies, Diabetacare is able to call on specialists such as neurologists, vascular surgeons, nephrologists and ophthalmologists to ensure optimum monitoring and treatment of patients.

The same principle is applied to liver care by CyberLiver, which presented at the recent India BioConclave. It has developed a solution that combines a smartphone breathalyzer with a mobile app and a cloud based behavioural change platform. This is not just for helping people drink responsibly, but to also help prevent the escalation of liver disease by helping people to monitor their alcohol intake, and send alerts using mobile technology in case they exceed their recommended limits.

The company says its mission is to make people aware of their liver health and offer solutions to keep their liver free of diseases – this is by enabling patients to take better care of their liver through innovative use of technology and providing products and services to help prevent liver ailments from causing severe damage.

What these two examples show is that in both diabetes and liver disease, monitoring using technology can help prevent a condition going to chronic levels where the cost of treatment is significantly higher. This use of technology in this way will in fact transform many parts of the healthcare ecosystem, for many conditions, and globally.

With the rising cost of treatments for chronic conditions, it’s vital that they are picked up and addressed much earlier on. This is the advent of ‘health 2.0’ – where technology is transforming healthcare, with the democratisation and even personalisation of medicine. And many technology startups are emerging to address just this, to help change the way we think about healthcare.

Nitin Dahad is a consultant and advisor to the technology, industrial and media sector, and to government agencies and trade organisations, to develop global market strategies and programs based on nearly 30 years’ experience across Europe, US, Asia and Latin America

Login to post comment
Get in Touch
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Array ( [format] => html [Itemid] => 117 [option] => com_k2 [view] => item [task] => 4579:tech-speak-with-nitin-dahad-health-2-0-tech-transforms-healthcare [id] => 4579:tech-speak-with-nitin-dahad-health-2-0-tech-transforms-healthcare )