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View from India: Smartphone to connect data dots in health story

India has a dire need to digitise information for patients and about patients. Some doses of imagination coupled with a market demand has urged healthcare start-ups to explore various technological possibilities for better patient outcomes.

Health data is complex and difficult for people to understand. Organisations have data but don’t have the know-how for deriving business value. This understanding forms the core of Health Vectors, a personal health analytics company founded by Dr Subhasish Sircar that has touched more than 350,000 lives.

A personal health analytics engine takes the past and present clinical data and personal health data, complete with lifestyle and family medical history. Data science and predictive analytics help make error-free health recommendations validated by medical experts. In short, a data-driven approach is used for better patient engagement.

The engine is built on R and MEAN stack and generates insights through the use of machine learning and cognitive computing. The engine is built using data science and evidence-based medical science. It makes 60-70,000 calculations and over 10,000 decisions for every single analysis. After consolidating various facets it generates a hyper-personalised report with simple actionable steps within a few seconds. The output is presented in an easy-to-understand and visual format for the end-user.

The software is on the proprietary cloud and data is on the dashboard. “Our business model is health analytics as a service (HaaS). We would like to move from a B2B2C to B2C model,” said Dr Subhasish Sircar, founder and CEO of Bangalore-based Health Vectors.

When Rupan Das’ father succumbed to a heart attack, he decided to do something about heartcare. India is home to 500 million smartphone users, so Das felt he could connect heartcare with the smartphone. The outcome was Lyfas – a tool for clinicians that helps them assess early risk of arrhythmia and endothelial dysfunction instantly from the phone. “Lyfas is a non-invasive instant diagnostics that happens through the smartphone.  For cardiologists and diabetologists, Lyfas captures light reflection in finger capillary using smartphone camera,” explained Das, founder and CEO of Acculi Labs. The 2017 Bangalore-based initiative has screened over 10,000 patients.

High-level signal processing helps measure pulse, heart- rate and early blood-biochemistry abnormality. The clinical-grade smartphone-based diagnostic tool helps doctors, clinics, nursing homes and hospitals to do a comprehensive test for every outpatient. It’s also utilised to bring in more patients through health camps, and helps in advanced tests which will lead to surgery and intervention.

By its very nature, cancer is a depressing disease, which has an emotional drain on the patient. Families hesitate to open up. As a result, the patient is almost left to suffer in isolation. This understanding urged Rashie Jain to start Onco, a cancer-care technology platform. More so, as she saw a relative suffer from cancer. “One million cancer patients are diagnosed every year. Network is a missing link, which can play an integral role in healthcare. Technology can help scale use cases towards patient support group,” added Jain, CEO and co-founder of Onco.com. This 2017 Bangalore-based virtual care platform for cancer patients has helped thousands of patients in at least 17 countries.

Onco connects patients with diagnostic labs, quality service providers and specialists in oncology over an unbiased online platform. Patients can also connect with the community for information and support. An online opinion is also part of the offering. This happens through a mechanism that tracks real world clinical trials meant for pharma companies.

As an internet aggregator, the platform has created tech-based medical intelligence to build an ecosystem that is accessible to everyone. Being a borderless platform, Onco aims to become a trusted platform for cancer patients.

The ‘uberification’ of ambulances is a thought which occurred to Prabhdeep Singh. E-commerce food players deliver food to the designated location quickly, so why not ambulances? Ironically the idea stayed in his mind and he felt it was time to make a difference to the fragmented ambulance market in India. In 2016, it led to the establishment of StanPlus, a Hyderabad-based platform that connects patients with ambulances, an important healthcare service.   

“We have a plug-n-play emergency helpline. The platform makes it easy to call for an ambulance and all rates are standardised,” explained Prabhdeep Singh, co-founder and CEO, StanPlus, an aggregator of ambulance services. The technology is more or less the same as that of cab booking. Backed by a fleet of over 900 ambulances that work 24/7, the vehicles can be tracked using GPS (Global Positioning System).

The ambulance personnel are trained to offer medical transport support. The vehicles range from simple ones to those fully equipped for advanced life support (ASL), that enable patients to reach the hospital, care centre or home on time.

The on-demand private road ambulance service operates in Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam. Other than that, there’s also StanAir, a chartered air ambulance.

We hope that start-ups continue to disrupt many segments of the healthcare industry. As of now, the convergence of mobile technology and healthcare has thrown up some interesting trends. Some of the ongoing patterns reveal that health-related information from mobile apps should be engaging and non-commercial in nature. The apps should be used to create value for patients. Usually consumers download these apps if they are free. This mindset has to change and needs to happen through income portability.

Apps lead to issues of compliance and privacy. Fundamentally it’s all about trusting the data. Several large pharma companies have a control room which analyses clinical programmes through intelligent algorithms. This gives clarity on its data for making informed references. Blockchain can be leveraged to safeguard health data. It is slated to change the data protection landscape over the next three-five years.

Government of India’s (GoI) Pharma Vision 2020 aims to make the country a global leader in end-to-end drug manufacturing. Incidentally, India is home to 10,500 manufacturing units and over 3,000 pharma companies. Low installation and manufacturing processes have made manufacturing costs in India approximately 35-40 per cent of those in the US. “Our country is one of the world’s largest producers of vaccines and medicines. India’s pharma exports include bulk drugs, vaccines. surgical and herbal products,” highlighted Dr DB Bhaaskara, director, Roerich Healthcare India.

The national government’s plan to have a health technology assessment board is also in the offing. It will have a robust IT system, complete with data analytics and the supporting infrastructure for health records. This will be an opportunity for private-public partnerships. “The aim is to create an electronic public health record using a centralised scalable IT system. It will also take into account privacy and anonymity,” summed up Urvashi Prasad, public policy specialist at the Office of Vice Chairman, Niti Aayog, a policy think tank of the Government of India.  

These views were shared at bioConclave 2019 — Transforming Healthcare in India. The event was presented by the Economic Policy Group (EPG).

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