MedTech in India: Start-ups Solving the Country's Healthcare Woes
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According to a 2018 report published in The Lancet, around 2.4 million Indians die of treatable conditions every year. The study, compiled by 30 public health experts from across the globe, further revealed that as many as 1.6 million Indians died in 2016 due to the poor quality of healthcare. In fact, inadequate care causes more preventable deaths in India than any other countries surveyed in the study. While the healthcare sector has witnessed profound growth in the last two decades, it has not translated into improved healthcare.
Newborn mortality, for example, is a pressing issue in India, with a majority of births taking place outside of tertiary care hospitals where facilities are limited. This can prove to be fatal for premature babies suffering from Respiratory Distress Syndrome (RDS) and other breathing disorders. What’s worse is that innumerable deaths occur while infants are being transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for breathing support, as adequate care is not available during transport.
MedTech Industry: Addressing the Unmet Clinical Needs of India
The emergence and growth of the MedTech industry, however, have given a ray of hope to millions of Indians. Currently standing at 8 billionUSD, the MedTech industry in India holds huge potential to disrupt the status quo of the country’s healthcare sector. With a number of startups working to tackle the challenges that currently exist in areas such as labour monitoring, neonatal hearing screening, cervical and breast cancer screening, things are looking up. Implementation of new technologies, although at nascent stages, have already begun changing the face of Indian healthcare by addressing the unmet clinical needs. Backed by the Department of Biotechnology’s funding arm, BIRAC, and other private foundations, these highly innovative technologies are an ideal solution to the healthcare woes faced by the country today.
2. Hurdles to Cross
Despite experiencing steady growth in the past few years, the domestic MedTech industry has a long way to go. Plagued by various challenges like lack of funding and price control on medical devices, many start-ups in this sector are struggling to stay afloat. Access to funding with a long-term view (patient capital) is a major problem, as investors typically focus on digital companies with a faster time to market. Procurement by the public healthcare system is another area of concern, given its tendering system which is designed for the commodity, multi-vendor, products and long timelines. At a broad policy level, recent moves by the government to impose price controls on multiple devices have also added to the challenges of the MedTech industry.
3. Government Support: The Need of the Hour
While the government has taken a slew of measures to fuel the growth of India’s MedTech sector, much more can be done to support the industry today. One big challenge facing the industry is government procurement. The bulk of procurement for the public healthcare system happens through tendering: where multiple suppliers for the same/similar products bid for the order, competing on price.
This system, by definition, does not work for an innovative, IP-protected product, which is manufactured and supplied by a single company. Start-ups operating in this sector, therefore, face a lot of difficulty selling their products to government buyers. A viable solution to this issue could be the introduction of a pilot fund where state health departments can apply for procuring an innovative product. Additionally, MedTech companies may largely benefit from publicly provided shared infrastructure facilities for product design, prototyping, testing and pilot production. This will not only provide extended support to India MedTech players but also help foster a breeding ground for innovation.