India is the second-largest country in the world and covers an area of over 1.269 million square miles of land. With agriculture being the main occupation in India, 66% of the country’s population inhabit the rural landscape, and only 34% of the population lives in the urban regions. There are very few doctors and healthcare providers who volunteer to relocate to villages to provide healthcare. While 67% of the doctors live in cities, only 33% of the doctors serve the rural population. Therefore, healthcare is not equally accessible to the entire country. People from various remote places still have to travel several miles before reaching a healthcare provider. The WHO recommends the doctor to patient ratio to be 1 doctor for every 1000 people, while a government doctor in India, on an average, attends to 11,082 patients. To make healthcare available evenly to the entire population and to prevent overburdening of the doctors, technologies have become indispensable. Major cornerstone technologies of Indian healthcare have been used to improve equity in healthcare access.
4 Cornerstone Technologies of Indian Healthcare
- Mobile AI radiology inferences: One-fourth of the world’s tuberculosis patients live in India and are more concentrated in the villages. NCR, a renowned hospital in Delhi, along with the government of Haryana, developed a mobile van that conducts digital chest x-rays as it travels through several villages. These x-rays are later processed using Artificial Intelligence (AI). This initiative was successful in identifying 244 tuberculosis patients in the first three months. This technology played a vital role in providing a timely diagnosis to people with inaccessible and unaffordable healthcare beyond geographical barriers.
- Smart clinics: Biocon, an Indian pharmaceutical company, has developed smart clinics named ‘eLAJ’ in rural areas of Karnataka and Rajasthan. When a timely diagnosis of diseases occurs at the primary healthcare centers, the burden on the secondary and tertiary healthcare centers will reduce significantly, and ailments in several patients can be proactively diagnosed before they become severe. Hence, these smart clinics specialize in primary healthcare by digitizing medical records (Electronic Medical Records) of the patients and making them available on distinctive, real-time dashboards. These EMRs help monitor the outbreak of diseases over various regions so that a clinic or relief camp can be set up where it is most needed. The records are also connected to the Aadhar cards (government-issued unique identification number) of the patients so that their health history over long durations are centrally available to any physician at any given place or time.
- iBreastExam: iBreastExam is an FDA-cleared tool that has been in operation since 2015. It consists of a small wireless sensor, marginally bigger than a barcode scanner, with 16 sensors to detect tissue stiffness in women’s breasts. The results are relayed in real-time to a mobile app. The test costs only four dollars and isn’t painful or time-consuming. The effectiveness of this tool was established in a study involving 900 women in Bangalore.
- e-Aushadi: e-Aushadi is a drug procurement, storage and distribution company. The company keeps real-time, electronic data about the quality and quantity of drugs stored in several warehouses of various districts. These records ensure that no medicine is in deficit and that they are continually restocked, so quality medicines reach the customers on time.
The Indian government has realized the potential and indispensability of technology in healthcare. It has proposed to increase the healthcare expenditure from 1.3% of the GDP to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025. The Rajiv Arogyasri program in Andhra Pradesh requires all hospitals to have computers with an internet connection to maintain electronic medical records. This program provides interest-free loans to make sure that all the hospitals are equipped with the necessary technology. Nearly 5000 startups are involved in developing healthcare technologies in India and raised a total of $504 million from 2014 to 2018. Despite being a developing country, India is advancing in healthcare technologies and has room for more innovative ideas to evolve. These four cornerstone technologies of Indian healthcare are just a start.
– Nirkkuna Nagaraj