Indian Healthcare Industry - At the Cross-Roads

Date:   Wednesday , August 06, 2014

ALTEN Calsoft Labs is a 1992 founded technology consulting and engineering services company. Based out of California, the company offers software product development, cloud enablement and engineering services in verticals like telecom & networking, semiconductor and others.

The usage of IT solutions for healthcare industry in India is much lower compared to developed countries. Large private hospitals in India spend under 1 percent of their operating budget on IT, which is much lower than 3 percent spent in the west, this is even lower in case of Government hospitals. According to research firm Gartner Inc., Indian health care providers are expected to spend $1.08 billion on IT products and services in 2014, a moderate increase of 4 percent over 2013. Internal services, like salaries & benefits paid to the internal IT staffs, are projected to grow fastest at 18.5 percent in 2014. Fueled by the increasing demand in Clinical & Care Management applications, HIT software segment is projected to grow at a rate of 6 percent in 2014 to reach $101 million in 2014, up from $95 million in 2013.

The health care delivery environment in India has distinctive challenges. Currently, the Indian Healthcare sector faces the challenges of accessibility, infrastructure and quality.

Some other challenges faced by Indian CIOs in adopting IT into the Indian health care system include:
>> Lack of standards :- Health care service providers have to face several problems while designing and implementing health care management systems as there is not standard like HIPAA in India
>> Lack of in-house IT domain knowledge : - Most of the hospitals focus on care delivery and have low investment in IT
>> Reluctance of medical, nursing and other staff to adjust to change
>> Apprehensions around technology failures (paper systems appear more reliable)

Many of these challenges can be solved by increasing the automation of diagnostic, care and collaboration processes. Though the usage of IT solutions for healthcare industry in India is not very high, the help of private sector investments in Healthcare sector and due to the increase in the use of modern diagnostic and treatment solutions, we see that care providers and associated service providers like health insurers are adopting information technology as a much faster pace than earlier. Indian technology solution providers need to develop innovative solutions to seize this opportunity and create a strong healthcare technology industry. Few areas which have a higher potential of IT investment related to Automation are:
>> Hospital Management Systems, customized to meet the needs of Indian hospitals
>> Telemedicine systems for providing care to remote hospitals and primary health centers where trained or specialized doctors are not available
>> Patient health record portals for storing and sharing patient health record among different stakeholders like patients, hospitals, clinics and physicians
>> Laboratory information management system for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for accelerating R&D activities
>> Remote patient monitoring solutions to support patients with chronic illness
>> mHealth solutions for improving collaboration among patients, physicians, hospitals, and payers

Indian technology solutions providers, big and small, have an opportunity to use the disruptive technologies like Cloud & Mobility and change the way healthcare is provided in our country and create a sustainable competitive advantage in the market place. To understand how these technologies can change the healthcare landscape, let us understand the two primary challenges in healthcare - one in providing healthcare solution to all and other to grow the industry faster enough. These two challenges are two sides of the coin and cannot be solved independently. At a macro level these challenges are caused by:
>> Absence of access to healthcare to a major part of the population due to unavailable infrastructure, skilled doctors, care providers, and basic medicines
>> Resource constraints, financial and workforce, to create infrastructure required to provide healthcare for all
>> Inefficiencies in healthcare operations due to low automation and isolated systems

Healthcare providers can use cloud computing effectively to solve many of these challenges. A cloud based telemedicine system that can be accessed over a low cost tablet can go a long way in increasing the access to healthcare as this can enable people in remote areas to reach out to expert doctors in a much lower cost. Since cloud based solutions are generally delivered on a \'pay-per-use\' model, it creates less strain on existing financial resources, at the same time optimize the use of skilled human resources. Similarly, a cloud based patient health record portal, accessible through a tablet, can increase operational efficiencies and reduce the diagnostic costs. A cloud based healthcare information system integrated with patient health record portal can increase operational efficiencies in any hospital manifolds without creating a big dent on financial resources of the hospitals. Likewise, a cloud based Laboratory Information System can reduce the cost of drug discovery which can result in low cost medicines for our country. We are already seeing many Indian technology companies taking right step towards this and launching cloud and mobility based innovative solutions for enabling healthcare providers to solve above mentioned challenges.

Another big opportunity that lies in front of Indian technology companies is to come out with low cost indigenous medical devices that meet the requirements of Indian healthcare industry. Companies should focus on the ruggedness, simplicity, easy accessibility, usability and specific needs of Indian healthcare industry while developing these systems. A new bottom of the pyramid approach can help the manufacturers here as they can offset the loss of profit margin through economy of scale.

It is clear that the disrupting technologies like cloud & mobility will be a major driver in changing the face of Indian healthcare industry and making India a healthy nation. It is imperative that both healthcare providers and technology providers need to show agility, and out of-the-box thinking capability to come out with innovative solutions to contribute to this growth journey.