The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc not only on human health but also on the global economy. However, for healthtech startups in India, the Covid-induced lockdowns and social distancing turned out to be a blessing in disguise and a driver of growth.
The pandemic exposed the gaps in the healthcare industry. In India, the crumbling healthcare infrastructure was laid bare -- poor hospital infrastructure, acute shortage of doctors, nursing staff and equipment and specialised treatment facilities, particularly in primary healthcare centres, in rural areas.
The widening gap between the number of healthcare providers and patients emphasised the role of digital technology to make healthcare available, accessible and affordable for the masses.
Further, with the pandemic propelling increased acceptance of online delivery of medicines, remote patient monitoring, digital health and tele-health, the healthcare startups began to gain a strong foothold.
According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI)-Praxis Global Alliance, in 2020, India’s healthtech Industry was around $1.9 billion, or under 1 per cent of the healthcare industry. With over 5,000 healthtech startups, it is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39 per cent to touch $5 billion by 2023.
“Traditionally, high incubation time, longer go-to-market strategy and high barriers to entry made the healthcare sector one of the most challenging sectors for startups. However, things have changed drastically over the last two years and catapulted the market 5-8 years ahead,” Mudit Dandwate, CEO and co-founder, Dozee, told IANS.
The Bengaluru-based startup is a contactless patient vitals monitor and early warning system that converts any bed into a step-down ICU at a fraction of cost.
“The last two years have been a turning point for the Indian healthtech sector. The Covid-19 pandemic was an unexpected catalyst that pushed the government as well as the consumers over the tipping point,” added Prasad Kompalli, CEO and co-founder, MFine -- an AI-powered, on-demand healthcare solution.
The government’s health mission policies such as Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), e-Hospitals and eSanjeevani telemedicine service, also provided a boost to healthtech startups.
Startups focusing on online medicine delivery, tele-consulting, and tech solutions for doctors and hospitals and other healthcare service providers gained robust traction during the last two years.
These include e-pharmacies like Flipkart’s SastaSundar; Tata Group’s 1MG; and Reliance Retail’s Netmeds; AI-based diagnostic technology Qure.ai and Niramai; fitness providers HealthifyMe and CureFit; and telemedicine providers such as Practo, Lybrate and DocsApp, among others.
“COVID-19 outbreak was a huge wake-up call for the Indian healthcare system. From providing innovative healthcare equipment to facilitating effective patient care, health tech startups in the country are evolving drastically,” Satish Kannan, Co-founder and CEO, MediBuddy, told IANS.
MediBuddy is a digital healthcare platform for inpatient, outpatient, wellness and fitness needs.
Can the growth achieved by healthtech startups during the pandemic be sustained in the future?
According to Pavan Choudary, Chairman, Medical Technology Association of India (MTaI), as startups find acceptability of their healthcare offerings in the market, one of the most crucial factors for their sustainability and growth is maintaining the quality of product and services.
“Startups should seek to comply with globally harmonised certifications like USFDA, CE which give them the mark of quality and also allow them to find greater acceptability of their products in the global markets. This will also further the image of ‘Brand India’” he told IANS.
In addition, adoption of “more technology-led business models driven by AI machine learning, will help consumers have an even faster and better care delivery” and help in the next wave of growth, Kompalli added.
A report by advisory firm RBSA Advisors said that e-pharmacies were the largest segment in the Indian health-tech market in 2020 with $700 million revenue, followed by B2B health tech market ($60.2 million), B2B medical supplies ($28.8 million), other health tech services ($100 million), e-diagnostics ($70 million) and teleconsultation ($45 million).
Vivek Tiwari, CEO and Founder of healthtech platform Medikabazaar said that in order to sustain the growth, the healthtech sector must not just target personal health and well-being, “but also strengthen medical infrastructure, providing a more effective response to emergency care and closing the delivery gap between tier-I and tier-II, III and IV cities”.
Technology to improve outpatient care for patients and optimise consulting time for doctors, along with enhanced on-demand pathology diagnostics and accessibility to home healthcare services can also be the way forward, the industry players noted.