The Covid 19 pandemics have exposed the deep vulnerabilities and inherent gaps of India's healthcare system. The outbreak of covid 19 poised both a challenge and an opportunity for Indian healthcare startups. Despite several inherent challenges, startups promptly engage themselves and develop solutions for the COVID-19 applications in the areas of prevention, detection, disruption, management, and operational efficacy, and have provided innovations in medical goods and services. So, we at Medicircle present the Healthcare Startup Series wherein we interview the healthcare startups which have shined through in this pandemic.
Dr. Satish S. Jeevannavar is the Founder and CEO of Ai Highway Inc. He is a successful business executive and a business healthcare leader. Ai Healthcare Inc aims to connect healthcare experts and to bring about accuracy in medical diagnosis. This they have achieved with pre-screening technology. Ai Highway pledges to have patients globally get a better diagnosis with their pre-screening technology. It also provides the option of self-monitoring to patients. With this one can check their own vitals and keep up to date with their own health. The company has created self-test tools for Covid-19 with which the patients can check if access to hospitals is not possible.
Healthcare Startups' Contribution
Dr. Satish says, “When we talk of healthcare, there are five stakeholders. First is patience, second the physicians, third, what we call providers or hospitals, fourth, pharma, and medical devices, and lastly the whole partner ecosystem. I think among these five, the patient is the biggest stakeholder. So things need to be patient-centric. All of us have observed the shortcomings of the healthcare ecosystem because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Here if you ask how startups are playing a key role, I would like to quote a few examples. The large organizations or MNC we see are like a big Volvo bus. If such a large vehicle needs to take a turn, it would have to go all the way to the end of the street before taking the said turn. But startups, in contrast, are like an autorickshaw. So when you are in the midst of a pandemic and you have low resource settings. Such startups can quickly take a shortcut by having innovation and solving the problem. They are agile and have a clean mindset.
Adding, “I would say healthcare startups can make an impact by creating huge jobs. That's also one of the key factors here. There are three aspects, one being accessibility. India's population is 1.35 billion, and we have an urban-rural divide. This is why we have a multi-fold increase in teleconsultations. With such digital solutions, one could kind of bridge some part of the access issues. We generally see that the vaccines take about 10 to 12 years to develop, but you will see that India achieved in a big way. We were able to come up with vaccines in just about 10 to 12 months, right? When you think in terms of the last mile connectivity, how do you cater to the tier two tier-three cities? So we have seen startups play a key role across the entire value chain. And that's where I feel the Startup India movement, which was started a few years ago and the support that we got from all the government agencies has been excellent. And when the startups worked with the large healthcare organizations, medical devices, pharma companies, it became a cohesive ecosystem, which I think is good for the largest stakeholder called the patient.”
Why select Ai Highway?
Telling about his startup, “When one says healthcare, it is seen as an equivalent to hospital care. A patient needs a hospital when he/she is very ill or has many complications. But we feel there is a very important element before he reaches the hospital. So we asked the question - Why should we wait for a patient to fall sick and then come for healthcare? We wanted to focus on primary and preventive health care. And this is where we feel in healthcare, we are doing the work which is similar to laying that 5G infrastructure for Telecom. Our work is to connect the primary healthcare ecosystem to the hospitals. This is like bridging that gap as a highway would. This highway will work as it is built with an artificial intelligence-enabled ecosystem. Our first product is AiSteth, which is a smart stethoscope to screen detect and predict cardiorespiratory disorders. The reason why we started working on this product is that non-communicable disorders are the world's biggest killer. We lose 41 million patients every year. If you look at the cardiology screening landscape, like ECG being used for acute coronary events and other bulky devices are primarily used in hospitals. This makes the patients need a doctor in a clinic, a challenge for rural towns where there might not be such equipment.”
He mentions, “We started working on AiSteth for screening and early detection of cardiac and respiratory disorders. Our goal is to reduce 25% premature deaths by 2025. Last year, we launched a pre-screening and triage tool. This was important because we did not have the healthcare infrastructure or so many doctors to handle all the crowd. So we thought while there is excellent work being done by startups and large companies in the hospital sector, we thought how can we reduce that burden. So if we came up with this clinical risk assessment tool, which is led by a nurse and it helps identify who's at low, mid, and high risk. With this, we can manage who can have home isolation. This helps reduce the burden on the hospital.”
About Their Finances
Dr. Satish tells, "We were bootstrapped for the initial two years. In fact, we started in the US and then went to Denmark. So we got some research grants from the USA and then the Atal Innovation Mission. We are also part of MeitY (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology). So initially, we started bootstrap then we got some government grants. Last year, we raised our pre-seed with Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan, the CEO of Cognizant.”
Ai Highway tackles Affordability, Availability, and Accessibility.
He answers, "We touch on all these important issues. If you look at most of the screening and early diagnosis in both cardiac and respiratory disorders happens in the hospital. So by bringing AiSteth to the Primary Health Care Clinic, we are shifting the screening from hospitals to OBD. This means that there is a chance of detecting diseases much earlier. So that is how we are tackling the access issues. And most hospital-based diagnostics are like 10 to 100 times costlier. Like not every doctor can buy an ECG machine or have an echocardiogram and so on. That's where we are helping him by bringing AiSteth, where we have the knowledge of a cardiologist or a pulmonologist through artificial intelligence and machine learning, and we can help him in better diagnosis. So that is how we are trying to reduce the cost. Usually what the doctor could hear with a stethoscope about heart and lung, was a subjective finding. So we are bringing in visualization, which makes it more objective. And that is how we are tackling the quality issue.”
Words for Future Healthcare Entrepreneurs
He believes that "Too much analysis leads to paralysis. So I think we have to take risks. I think that risk-taking capabilities are very important for entrepreneurs. But taking risks doesn't mean that you should not plan for things. One should definitely plan. When we hear a lot of these Western concepts like, fail fast and move to the next idea. These may not be relevant, especially for Indian startups and more so in the healthcare sector. Here you have to be really patient if you're working on an idea in healthcare, and in medicinal tech. Because the regulatory ecosystem takes quite a bit of time to come to the market. So I believe perseverance is very important. When we started, we really didn't know that we would be selected in the US or Denmark. So I think having that positive outlook and a thorough study of the space that you are looking at.”
He highlights, “The five key stakeholders I mentioned earlier, you should be able to add value. Either you are saving time or you're able to save cost and add value. If you could do this then you will definitely be able to find your sweet spot.”
(Edited by Priyal Shah)