The idea of healthcare is changing. Comfort, convenience and confidence have become central to healthcare today with several sections of the population willing to shell out exorbitant amounts for the same. Technology has, to a great extent, acted as a bridge to that idea as healthcare becomes more patient-centric than ever before.
Today, we have access to easy-to-use and accessible wearables and mobile apps, driven by technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality and built by innovation-hungry start-ups, that are part of web-based systems. They enable patients and their caretakers to make informed decisions with respect to the prevention, maintenance, management and treatment of diseases. While some digital devices and apps forewarn patients about their developing critical conditions and enable timely intervention by healthcare professionals, some even offer the comfort of privacy to women during medical investigations.
From addressing the physical challenges of the elderly and the visually impaired to helping people navigate their way through disorders like dyslexia and epilepsy, mental health conditions and even everyday stress—there are start-ups building devices and apps that are enhancing the patients’ quality of life and care.
Over the past few years, over 3,500 health tech startups have sprung up across India’s landscape and the segment is only warming up. In 2021, the health tech sector got funding of $2.2 billion across 131 deals, a number that is projected to grow to $21.3 billion by 2025 with a CAGR of 27 per cent, according to publication Inc42. As a 2020 FICCI-BCG report notes: “Health tracking devices and electronic health records combined with AI and Machine Learning (ML) technologies will not only pave the way for efficient chronic disease management but will also lead to the emergence of efficient clinical decision support systems.”
Here are what some of the start-ups in the space are up to:
Dealing With Dyslexic
According to estimates by the International Dyslexia Association, about 700 million children and adults across the globe are affected by dyslexia. One start-up working in this space is Oswald Labs.
Based out of New Delhi and Enschede in the Netherlands, self-funded Oswald Labs works on making technology accessible by providing friendly reading solutions to dyslexic children. Founders Anand Chowdhary and Mahendra Singh Raghuwanshi and chief technology officer Nishant Gadihoke have developed multiple products for the dyslexic inspired by the acclaim they got for developing a web reading prototype tool at a weekend hackathon.
“I realised I could make a difference in the lives of this section of children neglected so far. We worked to develop our Augmenta11y app, which uses augmented reality to make learning from textbooks and other material easier for dyslexic children,” says Chowdhary. An in-house study by the start-up found that the reading time for dyslexic students using Oswald Labs’ solution had come down by 20 per cent, he said, adding that the findings were even shared at the 2019 International Conference on Computer Communication and Informatics.
In addition to Augmenta11y, Oswald Labs has also developed several complementary products. Valmiki, for instance, is a browser extension that offers typography features and colour contrast ratio. The start-up has also come up with Agastya, which enables web developers to make websites disabled-friendly by incorporating an accessibility feature, and the Shravan app which, with its speech and vibration interface, is useful for the visually challenged, the illiterate and the elderly.
Alert And Attentive About Epilepsy
Rajlakshmi Borthakur, founder and CEO, TerraBlue XT, was inspired by her son's fight with epilepsy to work on a disorder that has affected 50 million people globally. TerraBlue XT went on to develop TJay, an epilepsy glove—the company’s flagship product—that is a patent-pending internet of things solution to effectively deal with epilepsy.
It comprises a wearable device and a machine learning/artificial intelligence-based software solution that, the company claims, can generate alerts about the onset of epilepsy seizures to help the affected stay safe and seek immediate help to manage their condition better. The device tracks electrical signals from the body throughout the day, including during work and sleep time, harvests real-time data, and streams it to a data gateway called Poketee which then sends it to a cloud-based system for retrieval during the intervention. It generates authentic information for doctors to recommend a suitable course of treatment and is particularly useful in enabling early data-driven intervention by healthcare professionals.
The company has also developed other wearables independent of epilepsy. One of its devices, Xaant, is a ring that can be used during meditation or mindfulness activities at home or even during the commute to monitor indicators like respiration trend, heart rate and temperature. The corresponding data can then help give insights into the person’s mental health, flag underlying stress and suggest follow-up actions. Xaant uses sensors, processors and advanced algorithms to gather and process body data and make it accessible in the Xaant mobile app. Sleep patterns, too, can be tracked with the device.
In terms of funding, TerraBlue XT has received the Biotechnology Ignition Grant of the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council, Idea2PoC Grant of the Government of Karnataka and is backed by the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) of IIM-Ahmedabad, among others. Borthakur says that the company, which has already patented some of its technology, is now tying up with companies to commercialise the manufacturing of their products.
Breaking The Bane Of Breast Cancer Screening
More than 2 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 6,85,000 died of the disease in 2020, making it the most common cancer, found the World Health Organization. Having said that, it has also been observed that the mortality rate can be checked with early diagnosis
For detection of breast cancer, Bengaluru-based start-up NIRAMAI—Non-Invasive Risk Assessment with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence—Health Analytix’s portable device records high-resolution thermal maps instead of X-raying as is done in conventional mammography. The procedure is contactless, radiation-free and painless, and can be conducted even in the privacy of the patients’ home. It is particularly useful for women from high-risk families and breast cancer survivors undergoing regular monitoring.
The start-up has collaborated with about 30 hospitals and diagnostic centres in the country to promote the use of the device which has screened over 30,000 women so far. The Drug Controller General of India has already given regulatory clearance to the NIRAMAI screening and the diagnostic test. In addition to that, 10 US patents have been granted to NIRAMAI’s innovative solution.
NIRAMAI claims that its accurate and reliable results for early indicators have been validated by scientific studies published in scientific journals like the Journal of Global Oncology of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Its advisory council comprises corporate leaders like Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and managing director, Biocon.
Making Remote Monitoring Accessible
In a bid to ease people into the idea of remote monitoring, Bengaluru-based Dozee has come up with devices that can be slipped under the bed—in hospital wards as well as at homes—and provide the convenience of contactless, round-the-clock remote monitoring of patients. It is particularly helpful in cases of post-operative home care, chronic disorder management, geriatrics and telemedicine as it monitors indicators like blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate.
Mudit Dandwate, CEO and co-founder, Dozee, says, “Our early warning system uses artificial intelligence algorithms to monitor the trends of a patient's vitals, setting off alerts in cases of deterioration for timely medical intervention.” It serves the purpose of step-down intensive care units and high dependency units, thereby reducing the cost of care. The device also helped in freeing up ICU beds during Covid-19.
Additionally, its integration into the electronic health record systems enhances the quality of nursing and optimises resource deployment. Dandwate claims that deploying their system improves nursing efficiency by 80 per cent, adding that their products are already being deployed for 6,500 beds in 300 hospitals across 40 districts in the country. The start-up has so far raised $16.5 million from investors like Prime Venture Partners, 3one4 Capital, YourNest and, more recently, from DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram.
Some of these start-ups are already setting a high bar for their counterparts. Earlier this year, NIRAMAI made it to the list of winners at the Global Women’s HealthTech Awards by the World Bank Group and the Consumer Technology Association. Oswald Labs’ Anand Chowdhary and Nishant Gadihoke were listed under the ‘Social Entrepreneurs’ category in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia in 2018. In 2017, TerraBlue’s Rajlakshmi Borthakur was part of the 12-person list of Women Transforming India Award by the NITI Aayog and the United Nations. She was also facilitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the same year.
While the digitisation of India’s healthcare has already begun with the push given by government schemes like Make in India, Startup India and Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, the budding start-ups in the space will only make it more robust.