Healthcare startups have revolutionized the healthcare delivery process for better patient experiences. The Indian healthcare system is witnessing innovative disruptions that are solving big challenges of the healthcare systems like affordability, accessibility, and availability. Through this healthcare startup series, Medicircle aims to raise awareness about the impact of this initiative, the latest developments on this front, and how healthcare startups have contributed to the overall growth of the Indian economy.
Adarsh Natarajan has more than a decade of experience in the IT industry spanning various roles in multiple geographies. His entrepreneurship journey started after completing MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. He is the Founder and CEO of AIndra Systems, a startup creating products in the area of Computer Vision, a domain under Artificial Intelligence. He was chosen as a delegate of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in San Francisco in 2016 organized by the US govt. He was selected by the State of Karnataka to represent the startup community at BioKorea in 2016 and also was selected as one of the 5 startup founders by the Dept of Biotechnology to visit Cambridge, UK in 2016. He is active in the startup ecosystem in Bangalore and helps in organizing meetups and events centered around startups and customer development using lean methodologies. He has been a Program Leader for the Startup Leadership Program which is a global entrepreneurship program.
Healthcare startups are enabling India to leapfrog into the next phase of healthcare
Adarsh mentions, “There is a wide spectrum of startups, right from pure internet players like pharma delivery companies to deep tech startups that are into things like drug discovery. So, there is a rich gamut of contributions through companies spread across this entire spectrum. There has been an explosion of startups working in different areas along the spectrum and I think it is wonderful! It's a great time at the moment as we are seeing a convergence of a lot of technologies that are available and being leveraged for healthcare. That's kind of bringing or ushering in a new generation of products and offerings in the healthcare space. It enables speeding up the entire cycle of drug discovery, drug delivery, pharma, distribution of drugs, medical devices, and so on. We are seeing that there is innovation happening at every point along this spectrum. Needless to say, it is the startups that are bringing in those next-gen technologies, next-gen offerings that countries like India can use to directly leapfrog into the next phase of healthcare without even going through an evolutionary phase!” says Adarsh.
Idea behind AIndra
Adarsh informs, “We work in the area of medical technologies. The whole idea behind this startup has been to use computational pathology as a means to detect certain critical illnesses to the point of care. When I say computational pathology, I mean that pathology has existed for many decades. It has been the science of looking at biological samples under a microscope and analyzing what is wrong with the subject. Now, there have been recent advances in this field, starting with digital pathology, which is converting the biological sample into a digital format, and then analyzing. We have added computational means on top of digital pathology, meaning that we have employed technologies like deep neural networks and other AI-related toolkits to kind of enable a more intelligent system than just digital pathology. So essentially, what we are doing is creating systems that will help us disaggregate the entire system of detection of critical illnesses,” says Adarsh.
Adarsh further mentions, “Today, if people have to get themselves tested for certain conditions like cancers, they have no option but to go to a large tertiary oncology hospital for that. We want to kind of change that paradigm and make this testing available in the neighbourhoods, in the local physicians’ clinics as well. The first step towards good health starts with actually understanding your health. This leads to prevention and gets evident in good health outcomes. We believe in going closer to the people and enabling them to get themselves tested in their neighbourhoods itself so that maximum people can ensure their good health. We have been detecting multiple kinds of cancers. We started with cervical cancer, and are now offering testing facilities for not only cervical cancer but also prostate cancer, oral cancer, etc. So, all of these cancers can be tested in small healthcare units, and not necessarily only through tertiary oncology hospitals. We have an end-to-end system that allows us to do this.”
Compliance and survival rates increase by having testing facilities in small healthcare units
Adarsh emphasizes, “studies have shown that the compliance rate for any diagnostic recommendation drops by about 50%. Let's say that a patient walks into a local physician's or gynaecologist’s clinic and if that physician or gynaecologist refers the patient to a hospital or a laboratory to get herself tested, and then come back with the reports, there is a possibility of a drop off happening. The woman who might have potentially a condition of chronic ailment might go on to live with that condition for long enough. Unfortunately, since time is of the essence, in many of these conditions, survival rates dramatically drop. So, the whole idea is that if something is immediately available in the clinic itself; if the test can be done immediately, the result can be shown to the patient immediately and an immediate recommendation for further action can be given to the woman. Compliance is going to be pretty high in such circumstances. Not just the hassles of the patient of going back and forth can be avoided, but also compliance improves greatly leading to a positive impact on health outcomes.”
Easy to use system
Adarsh assures “the product is designed and developed, keeping in mind low skilled workers and their ease to use the system. India is a country where we don't have enough skilled people available. We kept this in mind when we designed the system. So even a paramedic, a nurse, or a technician who is available in the physician's clinic can operate it easily.”
Telemedicine enabled work-from-home option for pathologists as well
Adarsh mentions, “the Covid phase has brought the dark clouds and silver linings together. If I talk about the dark clouds, then most of the patients have put off their immediate health conditions. All focus has been towards Covid. A lot of procedures and processes and tests that were happening regularly got disrupted, because of the fear of Covid, and fear of walking into the health care units. Many patients preferred not to go to regular hospitals, clinics, and pathology labs. That impacted us. But I think the availability of a telemedicine angle to our whole offering where we also have a telepathology option; helped. A sample that has been extracted from a patient in one part of the country could be examined by pathologists sitting across anywhere – this factor worked in our favour because we experienced labs reaching out to us, saying, “our pathologists want to keep themselves safe by not having to come into the laboratories. So, can they report from their homes, if you can digitize the samples?” So, in a way, while patients had the reluctance to come to the labs on one side, on the other side, we saw some behavioural shift happening where pathologists wanted to also work from home, which is something that you wouldn't expect a pathologist to do. I mean; working from home is so much of an IT concept that it is difficult to do that in healthcare sector but that is something that telemedicine allows.”
Plan to expand to foreign markets
Adarsh informs, “We have raised funding from multiple sources. Any startup with growth and expansion plans is always looking for further funding that would help to accelerate the whole growth, and so we are! Our expansion plans, of course, are not just in India, but we're looking at markets outside of India as well and in due course of time would be entering into multiple markets.”
Advice for startups - understand your customers and get domain experts on board
Adarsh advises, “I am sure that most of the entrepreneurs who are starting now would have heard this from multiple sources like advisors and mentors that it is imperative to understand your customers’ needs before you even start conceptualizing and building anything. Secondly, domain expertise is everything in the healthcare world. So, get some really good domain experts to be either advising you or on your board or part of your company. Domain experts from a very early stage is highly imperative. Of course, at different stages, different things become more important, but I think for early-stage startups, these are the make-or-break kind of situations,” says Adarsh.
(Edited by Amrita Priya)