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From Telemedicine to Wellness Apps, Technology Inspires Radical Changes in Indian Healthcare Ecosystem

Sujith Vasudevan, Managing Editor | Saturday, 25 March, 2023
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“10,00,00,000 teleconsultations is a remarkable feat. I laud all those doctors who are at the forefront of building a strong digital health ecosystem in India,” PM Narendra Modi Tweeted last month, implicating the excellent technology trajectory that the Indian healthcare system is on thanks to eSanjeevani. An e-health initiative of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, eSanjeevani is a national telemedicine service that strives to provide an alternative to conventional physical consultations via a digital platform. The mobile app became an elixir for millions of patients during the pandemic when the lockdowns confined them inside the walls. Remarkably, The last one crore consultations of eSanjeevani OPD were recorded in a remarkable time frame of around five weeks, signaling a wider adoption of telemedicine. It signals a great future for telemedicine in the country.

In truth, the pandemic has triggered many changes in the industry, including the experience imparted to the patients. Lend your ears to Sanjay Vyas, EVP, Global SBU Head-Clinical Logistics & Global Safety Services & Managing Director India, Parexel—a global biopharmaceutical services giant, “What COVID-19 did was it literally helped force-implementation of many technologies and innovations, which were just a part of the conversation otherwise. A case in point is the Direct-to-(Patient’s)Home healthcare model—taking diagnostics and therapies to the patient’s home is something the pharmaceutical industry has been talking about for quite some time. Suddenly, during the COVID-19 lockdowns.”

As the hospitals were focused on COVID, the day-to-day healthcare function needed alternative operational avenues. This forced the industry to adopt the alternative strategy of taking the therapies to patients’ homes, and telemedicine technologies became an elixir. The doctors started OPDs through video calls over the phone, and the drugs were sent to patients’ homes via online Pharmacy stores. However, that’s not the only change that has happened. Delving deeper, the industry has undergone radical changes. The axis of the diagnostics industry is biochemistry. It all boils down to blood chemistry, whether sugar tests, thyroid profiles, or hormone tests. But today, technology is slowly moving this axis to genetics, opening the doorway to predictive and preventive healthcare. The infusion of technology in vaccine development, which revolutionized how vaccines are developed, is a case in point.

What COVID-19 did was it literally helped force-implementation of many technologies and innovations, which were just a part of the conversation otherwise. A case in point is the Direct-to-(Patient’s)Home healthcare model


mRNA
Sanjay adds, “The second aspect of technology is around modern pharmaceutical technology for disease management. COVID-19 has forced us to think about the similar healthcare catastrophes ahead of us and how to be prepared to face such predicaments, hence the increasing focus on approaches like Immunomodulatory therapy. In addition, the methodology used in some of the vaccines today, such as Messenger RNA (mRNA), is an excellent example of the application of technology. Conventional vaccines use a dead virus, what we call the unaffected virus, to transmit the vaccine into the body so that our body becomes immune to the whole process. But with the mRNA, a virus is no longer required to be a part of that vaccine.”

While it has increased the effectiveness of vaccines, on the other hand, it also increased the time-to-market. If it took around 5-7 years to launch a conventional vaccine or a therapy in the market, it has been reduced to less than two years. Furthermore, the emergence of mRNA technology has created a ripple effect in the healthcare industry, transforming other disease areas and therapies. Following the success of messenger mRNA vaccines in Covid-19, there has been a surge of investment in new trials. Oncology and hematology are examples.

German biotechnology company based in Mainz, BioNTech, recently announced its strategic partnership with the UK government to provide up to 10,000 patients with personalized mRNA cancer immunotherapies by 2030. The company proclaims that several hundred patients have already been treated with mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies as a part of BioNTech’s trials.

Handling Big Data to Managing Bulk Data
On the other hand, big data in healthcare is increasingly becoming bulk data. The data-analytics-in-Healthcare market is projected to rise with a CAGR of 19.6 percent and hit $78.03 Billion by 2027. The industry is ramping up its effort to use this data in terms of predictive analytics and, in turn, better understand the impact of a particular therapy on an individual patient in a specific format.

Alongside big data, technologies like Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are also helping the industry streamline the process and improve the patient experience. Dr.Om Manchanda, the Managing Director of Dr Lal PathLabs, says, “There are two dimensions to how emerging technologies are transforming diagnostics. The first dimension is the service experience. Achieving faster turnaround time is a crucial aspect of improving customer experience. Hence, today, technology intervention is virtually in every aspect of the diagnostic cycle - ranging from process automation in the lab to mobile app-based experience. So, in this dimension, technology makes medical investigations more convenient for people.” He adds, “The other dimension is a pure medical dimension. Currently, samples are collected, increasingly from homes, and transported to a center with suitable infrastructure. Technology is starting to enable performing several tests at the point of the collection, called point of care testing. The RT PCR Test is a case in point.”

Going forward, it is quite clear that the healthcare industry has successfully inspired the Indian population to think about wellness rather than cure, like the adage, “Prevention is better than cure.” It’s no wonder that the revenue in the Digital Fitness & Well-Being Apps segment is projected to reach $5,214 million in 2023 (according to Statista). The sector is expected to show an annual growth rate (CAGR 2023-2027) of 19.41 percent to double the market to $10,600 million by 2027.


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