June 20, 2024

Pulse Bliss

most important health challenges

Why India could be the next healthcare innovation hub for the world

Healthcare systems worldwide face immense pressures — skyrocketing costs, ageing population, and stressed infrastructures. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed severe cracks, highlighting the urgent need for innovation. With strong government commitment and inherent capabilities such as a robust pharmaceutical industry, a vast pool of medical professionals, and a thriving digital ecosystem, India is primed to pioneer affordable and inclusive healthcare innovations globally. 

India has the potential to lead healthcare innovation worldwide with its vast talent pool, domestic market, and innovative approach to tackling challenges, given its diverse population. Our country is uniquely positioned to lead healthcare innovation globally through initiatives like Ayushman Bharat and the Unified Health Interface (UHI). With young India, there is immense potential to pioneer innovations in corporate health insurance and workplace wellness platforms. 

The Burgeoning Global Health Challenges

Healthcare systems today are strained under unsustainable costs and poor outcomes. The US spends over 16.6% of its GDP on healthcare, yet lags behind its peers. The UK’s NHS (National Health Service) has not getting the right care at the right time, long wait times, and expensive. 

Despite their advanced healthcare systems and substantial resources, most developed nations face significant healthcare challenges that strain their capacities. One notable challenge is the long waiting lists for specialised medical procedures and consultations.

Long waiting lists mainly affect specialities such as orthopaedics, cardiologists, and specific diagnostic tests. This issue not only causes distress and inconvenience for patients but also poses risks to their health, as conditions may worsen while awaiting treatment. 

The rising cost of healthcare, driven by factors such as expensive medical technologies, pharmaceutical pricing, and the increasing prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases, has led to concerns about the affordability and sustainability of healthcare systems. 

Several factors drive this crisis — the need for digitisation, data transparency issues, inefficient workflows, understaffing, etc. Due to rising sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, stress, and inadequate preventive care, people are falling sick more often. As the population ages, the prevalence of age-related diseases rises, emphasising the importance of significant improvement through innovation. 

India’s progressive health reforms

As India rapidly progresses, the government has prioritised improving healthcare access and outcomes through a series of progressive reforms. Initiatives such as expanding the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and establishing new nursing colleges aim to enhance the nation’s healthcare capacity. Leveraging its domestic scale and policy stimuli, India seeks to harness innovation to elevate local care standards while simultaneously tackling global health challenges.

One of India’s key strengths is its well-established position as the ‘pharmacy of the world’ and a leading vaccine manufacturing hub. During the COVID-19 pandemic, India produced over 2 billion vaccine doses, demonstrating its unwavering commitment to global health. This significant contribution to global vaccination efforts underscores India’s capability to meet global healthcare demands, fostering a sense of trust and reliability in its pharmaceutical and medical technology production.

The flagship Ayushman Bharat scheme provides health insurance coverage for hospital expenses to bridge the affordability gap in rural healthcare. Simultaneously, India aims to globalise its time-honoured wellness wisdom, including ancient practices like yoga and Ayurveda. Refining and adapting these approaches for modern-day healthcare delivery represents a massive, underexplored opportunity for the country to contribute to global well-being.

The cost of constructing a hospital bed in India is significantly lower than in many other countries, contributing to the country’s growing reputation as a destination for affordable, high-quality medical care. With skilled medical professionals and advanced technologies available at a fraction of the cost in developed nations, India has emerged as an attractive hub for medical tourists. This presents a unique opportunity for business leaders, policymakers, and healthcare professionals to invest in or collaborate with India’s healthcare sector, which offers quality yet economical healthcare services to patients from across the globe. 

These progressive health reforms underscore India’s commitment to not only improving domestic healthcare accessibility and quality but also contributing to global health solutions through a multifaceted approach encompassing traditional wisdom, modern innovation, technological advancements, and its well-established position as a leading pharmaceutical and vaccine manufacturing hub.

Building the Foundation for Impactful Innovation

Strategic public-private partnerships can catalyse healthcare innovation. Attracting investments, forging global partnerships via trade missions, and driving ongoing upgrades in digital infrastructure and health education will prime India for success. Creating specialised healthcare innovation hubs to unite diverse stakeholders in the ecosystem will foster localised problem-solving. 

A notable strength of India’s healthcare ecosystem is the extensive experience garnered by its medical professionals through handling a large volume of cases. With a vast population, Indian doctors, especially in specialities like cardiology, tend to perform significantly more procedures than their counterparts in other nations. This heightened exposure contributes to a more profound practical expertise. Complementing this, India’s numerous nursing colleges produce a steady stream of highly skilled nursing graduates yearly. Nearly 1000 recognised nurse-training centres, mostly attached to teaching hospitals, graduate around 10,000 nurses annually, cementing India’s reputation for providing top-notch nursing staff worldwide.

Government programs like Ayushman Bharat and the Unified Health Interface depend extensively on private-sector collaboration for impactful execution. The UHI promises to integrate fragmented health records and insurance claims via digital channels. Such initiatives highlight India’s commitment to boosting healthcare access through digital innovation. Numerous grassroots innovations across genomics, nanomedicine, telehealth, and more already emerged from India, providing affordable and adaptable solutions globally.

India’s multidimensional healthcare drive, synergising traditional knowledge systems, manufacturing prowess, technological disruption, and human capital development present a potent strategy for the nation to emerge as a preeminent global leader in holistic wellness solutions.

The Road Ahead

The government’s digital health programs will expand care access nationwide. Spurred by COVID-19, India aims to build integrated health data systems to unlock innovation. Corporate wellness and insurance offerings will mature, with India’s startups providing enterprise-grade digital health solutions for global organisations. Despite challenges, India strives to pioneer inclusive and accessible healthcare innovations globally.

—The author, Satish Kannan, is Co-founder & CEO, at MediBuddy, India’s largest digital healthcare platform. The views expressed are personal.