Some notes on Indian Healthcare Innovation ecosystem

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Since transitioning from being a passive observer to an active partner in the healthcare innovation ecosystem, at various times I have felt inspired, amazed, excited. On the other hand, there have been instances when I have felt doubtful, sceptical and frustrated. What follows are some notes about this medley of thoughts, roughly going from system level to individual level.

Fragmented playing field

Healthcare products and services in India is a highly fragmented field. Typical healthcare stakeholders such as hospitals, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, diagnostic firms and other service provider firms come in all shapes and sizes. Availability and skills of manpower including physicians, surgeons, paramedical staff is not uniform and varies greatly from urban to rural regions, within different urban areas and so on.To add to this fragmentation, there are varying degrees of government controls, regulations and interventions for these stakeholders. Many ecosystem players consider these challenges as opportunities to innovation. However this also makes it difficult to refine the challenges and creates further hurdles in getting the innovation to have the ultimate impact.

Differentiated but complicated problem space

The gaps and inefficiencies created by the fragmented field has created a highly differentiated problem space. Some of this is due to differential needs of patients vis-a-vis pricing, convenience and quality of products and services. Physicians, healthcare administrators and service providers have reacted in various forms to these needs. These gaps have led to differentiated issues but these are still interlinked and hence complicating the problem space.

Plethora of ideas

The fragmented playing field and differentiated problem space has worked well for ideation. Government labs, universities, medical researchers, NGOs and individual entrepreneurs are enthusiastically producing tons of ideas. These ideas are also variously funded by several government initiatives and many private investors are interested in investing in this space. These ideas range from diagnosing diseases with new devices and drugs, providing cheaper/more convenient/more accurate services, and of course various tech-enabled solutions including apps and other digital health products.

Complex issues, easy solutions

Here’s where things start to get a bit muddled. Many of the new products and services ideas that are being developed are most of the times easy fixes that try to oversimplify the underlying issue. Too little is done to validate an idea about a supposed issue, against other parts of the ecosystem which connect with it. The fragmentation of the field doesn’t help-many times entrepreneurs fail to see all the connections within the problem space. Very little is thought and done keeping in mind the ultimate impact for the patients or related outcomes. This lack of impact thinking percolates upwards reaching investors, who are more interested in short-term operational efficiencies/easy returns rather than creating long-lasting institutions helping solve the root issues. Thus these simplistic ‘solutions’ at best create fixes, at worst create further burden in this already challenging system.

High on innovation, High on competition

I have seen and met intelligent, fantastically motivated and enthusiastic people in the innovation ecosystem. They exist across all of the ecosystem partners-universities, start-up communities and large firms. They are keenly aware of the challenges and hurdles in our healthcare system. However many of these partners end up competing with each other rather than collaborate and work towards their goals together. While healthy competition always helps, at least some of the times, innovators, investors and various government agencies can easily work together to meet everyone’s goals and have a larger impact.

How can this change?

For anyone interested in this space, I have some reflections for way forward-

  • We need to remember that the Indian healthcare system is fragmented, with many hand-offs and gaps. Its difficult to generate a uniform journey map for any of the system player that will work across the various layers.
  • We should look at all possible connections, while identifying placement of our product/service in the system; taking these learnings into product/service design can add a lot of value to differentiating the final solution.
  • While creating our go-to-market plans, we will probably need to pay particular attention to market differentiation and try focusing on a narrower section of customers in the beginning.
  • We should not neglect the value of collaborations in such an inter-connected system.
  • Ultimately, we should not loose focus on the possible impact we plan to have for the problem we chose. This impact doesn’t need to be ‘blockbuster’ but teasing out the right indicators of this change, setting a proper baseline for this indicator and proceeding in measuring this at all levels can be immensely useful.

At Sineflex Solutions, we have been trying to work on some of these challenges and have had our fair bit of successes. I will be happy to hear your thoughts and feedback through comments!

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Santosh Shevade

Santosh Shevade

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Healthcare Innovation | Outcomes Research | Implementation and Impact