Artificially Intelligent (AI) devices and mechanisms are changing the way healthcare is accessed, administered, and experienced around the world. The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the needs and fractures that dog the healthcare infrastructure in the country; however, with the setbacks also come opportunities for meaningful change. Healthcare spending is a significant burden on both the individual and the governments globally. In India, the expenditure of the average person was 17% more on healthcare in 2018 than in the previous years, with 70% of all healthcare spending paid out of pocket. Approximately 4% of the billion-plus population spends greater than 25% of their income on healthcare. These figures have only risen during the pandemic, and a staggering 55 million Indians have been pushed into poverty due to whopping healthcare expenditure. Research also indicates poor women from rural backgrounds are disproportionately burdened. Not only are outcomes worse for rural women controlling for other factors, but their health is also considered less important than men’s when health care has to be paid for by borrowing, sale of assets, or contributions from friends and relatives (distressed financing). Artificially Intelligent solutions in healthcare can help reduce the costs of healthcare. In this context, the usefulness of AI-driven health care services cannot be overestimated.
Every year, thousands of Indians die from otherwise treatable diseases due to late diagnosis and poor care quality. In a study across 40 primary health centres in three districts—Fatehpur (Uttar Pradesh), Wardha (Maharashtra), and Tumkur (Karnataka) — Brookings India Health Monitor found that tests listed in the essential category were not available in any of these districts. These included tests for TB, malaria, hepatitis B, syphilis, and HIV. Given the startling picture of disproportionate access to healthcare in India, The National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) has successfully centered conversations about AI in the Government’s reform agenda. NSAI has highlighted AI’s potential to boost outcomes in sectors, such as healthcare, by facilitating an improved scale of delivery of specialized services and increasing inclusive access to government welfare schemes. AI-driven solutions not only deliver a precise diagnosis but also reduce the overall cost by accurately mapping the treatment plan to the diagnosis. India stands at the cusp of an AI revolution in its healthcare sector, with innovative, accessible, and scalable healthcare technology startups already taking root in the country.
Homegrown AI startups are among the most impactful game-changers in reducing the urban-rural and men-woman healthcare disparities. Examples include Responsible AI for Social Empowerment (RAISE) 2020 winner SigTuple, which builds intelligent screening solutions to aid diagnosis through AI-powered analysis of visual medical data. Their platform Manthana has enabled SigTuple to work on five major high-volume screening processes of the healthcare industry – analysis of peripheral blood smears, urine microscopy, semen, fundus & OCT scans, and chest x-rays to enhance doctors’ efficiency. Artivatic.ai’s DARVIN — a modular API-based healthcare platform for customers, insurance, clinics, and hospitals — also won in the healthcare category in RAISE 2020. This AI insurtech and healthcare platform provides solutions to patients, providers, and insurance companies to enable affordable healthcare through low-cost, need-based insurance products and easy access to health financing via B2B and B2B2C platforms. NIRAMAI, one of the only Indian startups to be included in CB Insights’ 100 most promising AI startups, provides Machine Learning-powered breast cancer screening tool, which is low-cost, accurate, automated, portable, and easily operatable. Oncostem, another Bengaluru-based startup, has developed innovative prognostic tests that assess the aggressiveness of tumors to identify the unique characteristics of cancer recurrence risks. The AI-driven biomarker-based prognostic tests for cancer allow for individualized cancer therapy customized to address each patient’s need saving on unnecessary chemotherapy and multiple diagnostic tests. Startups also focus on improving medical data collection, access, and storage stored in real-time on the cloud to allow ease of access while ensuring the undisturbed quality of healthcare.
Global Innovation Index predicts that once technology adoption becomes widespread, remote monitoring of patients using telehealth devices will become the norm. Hospitals will do away with wards and have 90% of beds for intensive care and 10% of beds for emergency or trauma in India. The healthcare delivery model will thus undergo a change where patients who would have otherwise been in hospitals will be tended to in care centers or at home, remotely monitored by specialists. Reducing the doctor’s time taken to perform actions would allow for more focused efforts on improving the quality of life at home and those in the hospital who are in the most need of it. This helps significantly lower healthcare costs by avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations and improving the patients’ quality of life.
The Indian healthcare sector is inundated with inequalities in easy accessibility, required infrastructure, and diagnosis-treatment mismatch. However, AI-driven startups have proven to be disruptive in the Indian healthcare ecosystem by challenging predefined practices, ingrained perceptions of doing things. Startups have helped bridge the accessibility and affordability gap in the urban-rural divide and the gap between access to healthcare for men and women. AI startups aim to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of the disease and change the mortality outcomes by providing early screening, among other tools.