The years between 2014 to 2018 witnessed around 580 healthcare technology deals in the United States, each over $10 million, amounting to a total of more than $83 billion in value. These deals have been primarily concentrated in three main categories: patient engagement, data and analytics, and new care models. The implementation of technology has driven exponential change in healthcare in the last couple of years. If this is any indication to go by, it is increasingly evident that technology will play an indispensable role in shaping the healthcare systems of the future. In the past two years, it has certainly helped us adapt to disruptions almost overnight and become more efficient. Even for Covid-19 vaccines, mRNA technology came to the spotlight and given its success, there has been a steady increase in FDA approvals for using the same technology to cure previously untreatable diseases.
Let’s take a closer look at how technology is permeating into and enhancing the role of all stakeholders in the healthcare realm, creating a more robust system equipped to tackle future challenges.
Drug development on average takes between eight to ten years from its journey of initial discovery to reaching the market. The advancement in technology has also led to quicker clinical trials and the overall process of developing new drugs has reduced significantly. We saw this during Covid-19 when artificial intelligence was used to improve precision and speed in drug development. In the case of the vaccine as well, we witnessed the time it took between development, clinical trials and final approval being sought via Emergency Use Authorization, which set a record of its own. Today, clinical trials can be managed from a central command centre that uses machine learning to predict how they will unfold. A Global Data survey last year revealed that over 70 percent of pharma industry respondents anticipate drug development will be the area most impacted by the implementation of smart technologies.
Internet of Things (IoT) has transformed people’s lives through detection and diagnosis. Today apps and wearables can detect any irregularities in people’s health and alert them to take timely action to treat them. We also have apps that track a spike in glucose and an irregular heart rhythm in our body throughout the day and send real-time alerts. It informs a person of any nutritional irregularities that may be causing such a spike. With solutions like these, the consumer today is empowered with easy-to-understand data that encourages them to make appropriate lifestyle choices.
Even physicians can track patients’ adherence to treatment plans remotely and in real-time. IoT enables healthcare professionals to connect with their patients on the go and guide them consistently instead of only on an appointment-to-appointment basis.
Digital healthcare tech companies that offer digital solutions to pharmaceutical companies for increasing patient reach like GoApptiv are today ensuring access to key drugs in the remotest towns of the country and transforming customer care via digital.
During Covid-19, we also saw patients using telehealth services to diagnose and treat their illnesses from the comfort of their homes. As per a recent report in 2021, there has been a 500 percent rise in healthcare teleconsultations in India, wherein 80 percent are first-time users. This rise goes to show a new norm set post-Covid-19. The way doctors are consuming information is also being transformed by technology. There are OTT platforms where they can access resources customised to their preference and consumption patterns.
In the words of Steve Jobs, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”. The challenges posed to us during the pandemic were majorly dealt with by innovative approaches. While our industry is known globally for its generics expertise, it is time to invest more in innovation and R&D to come up with affordable, cutting-edge solutions in healthcare. To focus on innovation, it is imperative to ensure strong cost discipline amid the inflationary environment impacting procurement costs and freight to protect margins.
India’s healthcare sector has had tremendous learnings from the pandemic-led disruptions. As a public health imperative, digitalisation is used to detect infection outbreaks which are critical to disease surveillance. Today the government has algorithms to detect such outbreaks based on disease data available. This is fundamental to the provision of adequate and timely public health services.
During the peak of Covid-19, an ingenious innovation, the Arogya Setu app was well received for its "test and treat” approach. The Bluetooth connectivity helped trace people who may have come in contact with the infected, and treatments were fast-tracked. A pandemic of this scale would not be managed without such real-time detection technology deployed by the government. Such initiatives in digitalisation can facilitate timely and cost-effective identification of hotspots of infections to enable the decision makers to act with minimal delay. With a population of over a billion and given the size of its underserved patients, the aim of healthcare innovation is for early intervention to prevent critical care and to reduce the severity of cases significantly.
If all stakeholders drive their efforts towards building a healthier community, one individual at a time, we can get to our goal much faster. A healthy life shouldn’t just be a personal resolve but a commitment to the community which is further unlocked with the power of technological advancements.
The writer is MD & Global CEO of Cipla.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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