This essay was triggered by a conversation I had with the Coimbatore-based entrepreneur Swathy Rohit on her latest venture Health Basix. We were talking about healthcare in India and of course the pace of Covid-19 vaccination when we got talking about paediatric healthcare.
This has been on my mind not only because some very close friends had faced considerable challenges in this area, but also because I had recently admired the outreach work done by my Oxford batchmate, Dr. Priyadarshini Tripathy, a respected gynaecologist specialising in maternal and child healthcare, especially in the creative use of social media to talk about health.
We discussed a range of issues that are barely ever tackled in the public sphere: the fact that waiting time for parents at paediatrician visits in the country is too long, most parents feel uncomfortable discussing the mental health of their children among family and friends, and very few, in fact, a negligible number of schools in India have in-school clinics.
All of this is even more relevant when we consider a little-discussed area: children’s mental health. These issues are often ignored until they surface in instances of violence, and remedial measures at that time are often a case of too little, too late.
Health Basix is a free electronic health record and in-school healthcare provider. It offers a collaborative approach, as it were, to the health of children, especially in schools. Its mobile app provides constant monitoring of children’s health and connects to all guardians and caregivers, at home, and at school. The idea is to monitor the health of children and ensure the correct diagnosis and care is provided whether they are at home or school.
It bridges a critical gap of monitoring, evaluation, and diagnosis among perhaps the most vulnerable population using digital technology. Ideas like Health Basix are part of a mushrooming wave of digital startups and other digital-driven interventions aimed at transforming Indian healthcare. The government of India has lined up a series of measures, from a digital health ID for every citizen to deeper use of telemedicine, to promote digital healthcare.
Digital healthcare platform Practo, whose ads I seem to see each time I open YouTube these days, has raised $232 million, according to investment data tracker Tracxn, and brought in $32 million in its latest round (Series D) in August 2020. Practo is merely one of the many digital health startups which have been successfully raising money in the last few years. Other prominent gainers include Practo’s fellow Bengaluru-based startup Tricog (it connects heart patients with doctors, and doctors with suppliers of ECG machines) which has raised $17.3 million till date with a $10.5 million Series B fund raise last March, according to Tracxn.
According to the apex information technology industry body Nasscom, India has around a little over 1,000 digital health startups and the numbers have steadily increased.
No doubt only some of the startups would succeed and scale but there is a more important point—the use of digital technology (including telemedicine) is here to stay in India. The volumes of Indian patients and the demand of doctors often creates a mismatch which cannot be easily or swiftly resolved. There is no doubt that more facetime with doctors for more Indians would be useful but a combination of supply-demand mismatch, and continuing concerns about Covid-19, has made digital technology increasingly the go-to place for swift delivery of critical healthcare.
The arrival of the second Covid-19 wave in India has underlined that this is a disease that is likely to be with us for a long time, and, as many researchers had predicted early last year, is likely to surface in waves. Therefore, the demand for contactless medication is set to soar and with it the demand for digital-based healthcare.
Also, importantly, as the arrival of firms like Health Basix shows, such endeavours might trigger much needed conversation and assistance in areas usually hushed up in the country but where tremendous work is needed.
Views are personal. The author is a multiple award-winning author of nine books. He is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.