Advanced diagnostic and therapeutic options have led to an explosion of innovations in the healthcare industry, designed to improve quality of life. Innovation is fast emerging as a major focus in the healthcare sector that is facing unique challenges to improve quality, reduce harm, develop access, enhance effectiveness, abolish waste, and lessen costs.
To find answers to some critical issues related to innovation in the healthcare industry and government’s role in this regard, the Entrepreneur India got in touch with Parag Agarwal, CEO and Co-founder of HealthCode.io
“'Innovation, technology and collaboration are symbiotic and cannot exist without each other’s support. The case is no longer ‘Innovate or die’, but ‘Collaborate or die’. Innovation in health, whether incremental or disruptive, whether tangible or process-driven, is already happening across all income groups. There are multiple ways in which innovators can collaborate smartly and cost-effectively, especially in a fragmented and DIY market like India,” said Agarwal.
“The old myth ‘Build it and they will come’ continues to prevail. No matter how ground-breaking or unique your solution is, if it is not known by anyone, it won’t make any difference. Apart from ad-hoc ‘hustling’ like attending events and chasing down journalists, the smart thing to do would be to form ‘alliances’ with innovators in the same or complementary domains. The best idea is to work collectively as a group of lobby key decision makers for your target audience. They will sit up and take notice because there is strength in numbers,” he stressed.
“Clarity of thought, focus and ability to communicate in a concise, direct manner will allow you to break through the clutter, both real and perceived,” opined Agarwal. “Whether you’re raising funds, selling or hiring — the success of your innovation lies squarely in your ability to communicate well. A lot of innovators under-estimate this and wait until it is too late to save their start-up. You don’t need to hire expensive consultants — India is now a major hub of incubators and accelerators and there is no shortage of mentors, who will gladly help, as their way of giving back to the ecosystem. But you need to reflect and assess where you stand in terms of competency and have the courage to get help,” he added.
Positioning and Pivoting
“An exercise in collaboration,” maintained Agarwal, “is not only a timely reality check, but allows entrepreneurs to discover challenges and barriers that others have already faced. Whether you’re operating in a new or competitive space, collaboration (or at least attempts at collaboration) can provide useful insight and data points. If you’re in the high-risk, high-reward quadrant of entrepreneurship, you should either position yourself as a ‘leader’ or a ‘close challenger’ — otherwise pivot before it’s too late.”
Stop Thinking of Innovation in Terms of Rural (or Remote) vs Urban
“This approach may be counter-intuitive. Focusing on the user, wherever they are located is a safer bet. With geographical boundaries between urban/rural blurring in many cities, rapid upward mobility trends and the presence of urban poor who share the same characteristics as the rural poor — the old methods of segmentation are no longer useful,” Agarwal said.
“In terms of trends, tele-consultation or medicine or pharmacy will continue to grow as bandwidth improves, and devices, both medical and mobile, get smarter. However, if we look at care holistically, health outcomes do not just improve with right diagnosis or advice over the Internet. Across all income groups, a doctor’s healing touch and physical presence still plays a primary role in healing. Affordable technology, innovative and cost-effective ways to create awareness and deploying more health workers will prove beneficial,” he predicted.
Government’s Role in Facilitating Tech Innovation
“In India, historically it was the private sector’s prerogative to innovate against all odds ('jugaad') as the government was not active enough. But, now suddenly the private sector has a willing and able partner in the latter. So far as perception is concerned, very few entrepreneurs think that it will be daunting or ‘expensive’ to engage with the government. This will definitely have huge knock-on effects that will snowball in the years to come,” he notified.
According to Agarwal, the best thing the government can do, across all sectors, is to make it easier to set up businesses, obtain funding from banks at an earlier stage (pre-revenue) and allow businesses to fail and close down easily and in the process — in short, transform the overall mindset around entrepreneurship. “High risk-high reward businesses need coordinated policies, apart from being well thought through. These policies must be long-term, involve all the states and must seek an overall change in culture,” he suggested.
“Bank funding is hardly available for new businesses. Even if it is riskier on a standalone basis, collectively I am confident that lowering the funding threshold for pre-revenue start-ups, sharing risk with accredited investors or innovating around alternative forms of collateral can greatly facilitate technology innovation and yield outsized returns for banks. The RBI and the government need to work on this, as banks these days rarely have the autonomy to innovate around lending products,” pointed out Agarwal.
“Another area of concern is intellectual property. Not only the creation and protection of IP, but also the ability to leverage IP assets for fund-raising, has to be looked into. In Singapore revenue generating patents can be put up as collateral for bank funding. Most of the risk is guaranteed by the government. The policy isn't without its flaws — for example the high upfront cost of IP valuation adds significantly to the cost of borrowing. However, policies should also inspire and provide impetus and their benefits should not be solely perceived at face value. If this is not already happening, the Indian government should setup a intelligence unit under the PMO, whose sole purpose is only to systematically scour global best practices and adopt them for the Indian market. I believe The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) is the right agency for this department,” proclaimed Agarwal.
Founded in July 2014 by Parag and Sivaram Rajagopalan, HealthCode.io is the world's fastest growing community for key stakeholders in health. Members can meaningfully profile themselves, discover and chat with potential partners to further their collaboration objective.