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View from India: Medical robots poised to transform healthcare provision

Image credit: Dreamstime

The Ayushman Bharat Yojana, aka the National Health Protection Scheme, envisioned by the Government of India (GoI) aims to bring 500 million citizens under the umbrella of healthcare.

Ayushman Bharat Yojana will roll out 150,000 Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs) by December 2022. These will provide comprehensive primary care (CPHC), including preventive healthcare, to the poor across the country.

Reportedly, thousands of drivers belonging to taxi aggregator Ola will receive health benefits under the Ayushman Bharat health scheme in the Delhi NCR ((National Capital Region). The benefits will extend to financial services, food and skilling and the scheme will eventually spread to other parts of the country.

'Ayushman Bharat', a 2018 CRISIL report, indicates that pricing will play a crucial role in changing the way private sector hospitals function today. The focus will shift to volume-driven affordable care.

The fact that GoI has a vision of providing universal healthcare to the poor and needy under the Ayushman Bharat Yojana has urged medical technology providers to come forward. A case in point is Siemens Healthineers. “We will create business models based on what is most relevant to the buyer. We are working towards the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, whose vision is to provide health cover to less privileged citizens,” said Vivek Kanade, executive director at Siemens Healthineers.

Of course, when the national programme aims to bring a large section of society under its health cover, the scale of reach will grow for the providers. There will be challenges related to payments and reimbursements. The company plans to work out various strategies such as leasing and risk revenue sharing model. Fintech models could be part of the offering. “We will get more innovative on the financial models as we proceed along,” Kanade said. Already the company has collaborated with the state of Uttar Pradesh. Through a private public partnership Siemens has supplied 22 units to district hospitals, of which 19 have been installed.

Ayushman Bharat and Bangalore’s entrepreneurial community combined have seen Siemens open its next-gen manufacturing facility in the country last week. This facility is collocated with the company’s R&D centre in Bangalore. After co-locations in Germany and Shanghai, the Indian facility is the third such operation.

“India is poised to be the world’s third-largest economy in the next 10 years. We already have a presence in the country. Now, we are further investing by opening the state-of-the-art medical imaging manufacturing facility here. We want to harness local talent and tap into the entrepreneurial community,” highlighted André Hartung, Siemens Healthineers. To begin with, around 70 professionals will be hired for the new facility, which will be extended in phases by 2025.

India is a key market for the company and the facility offers solutions from diagnostic imaging to advanced therapies. With an investment of INR 200 million, the new manufacturing facility builds on the INR 25 billion invested in the R&D centre so far. The R&D facility in Bangalore provides powerful imaging for orthopedic trauma, spine, pain management, gastro and urology surgeries.

The new facility will make computed tomography (CT) systems based on Somatom go. platform that has been co-created with 500 customers in 11 countries. The new platform will combine software-led innovations with detector technologies for radically enhanced workflow efficiency, expanded clinical applicability, improved patient experience and meeting the financial requirements of healthcare providers.

Digitalisation will change the speed at which surgeries are performed. “The R&D centre in Bangalore has been leveraging AI and digitalisation to manufacture and conduct tests for the domestic and international market,” said Peter Seitz, Siemens Healthineers.

Some of the upcoming surgical trends to look out for are the mobile and imaging combo. Imaging, which is core for clinical decision making, results in increased value across clinical fields. It’s a fundamental step for orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, gynecology, women’s health and neurology. Robots have just begun to enter the medical field. In the next three-five years, the entire range of surgical robots will increase.

“Over the years, the R&D centre in Bangalore has grown into a digital hub for the company, accounting for over half of all the software engineering talent within the company. It is also the largest such centre within the company globally,” explained Gerd Hoefner, managing director, Siemens Healthcare Pvt. Ltd.

Besides software, another highlight is the entrepreneurial community. Siemens has opened out opportunities for co-creators in India who can contribute to solutions and products that are commercially available globally. A special unit will be created within the company to work with healthcare startups - a timely move, given that the Union Budget 2019-2020 (announced in July 2019) stressed the need to boost the startup ecosystem and announced accordingly that startups that raise funds will not be subject to tax scrutiny.

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