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Accelerating Healthcare Innovation

In conversation with Samir Sathe, Executive Vice President, Wadhwani Advantage at Wadhwani Foundation about the newly launched Acceleration Program exclusively dedicated to Healthcare Industry.

Healthcare is a key focus area for Wadhwani Foundation. Wadhwani Advantage launched an Acceleration Program exclusively dedicated to Healthcare Industry. The program focuses on assisting businesses across the spectrum, from manufacturers of medical devices to pharmaceutical firms and healthcare delivery providers. As Indian healthcare businesses emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, the unique Wadhwani Advantage program allows them to accelerate revenue and free cash flows to fund growth.

Can you provide our readers with an overview of the Wadhwani Foundation’s various initiatives for the healthcare sector?
Healthcare, as we define it, encompasses diagnostics, delivery, med-devices, pharma and life sciences companies across the spectrum of the patient journey and we, at Wadhwani Foundation, are committed to achieving our mission of economic progress through job creation and productivity by undertaking several initiatives. In 2020, when the COVID pandemic hit us, we pivoted quickly by creating offerings across three of our programs, Wadhwani Advantage, Wadhwani Opportunity and the Wadhwani Catalyst Fund.

We created a healthcare-focused vertical in the Wadhwani Advantage program aimed at helping SMEs in this space to accelerate growth. We invested in building a team to create automated advisory tools which will allow the med devices and healthcare delivery companies to monitor and govern the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of their businesses better and plan for both the short and long term. We helped tens of SMEs last year, and this year, we will accelerate to 150 of them, impacting the employment of >10,000 people.

In the Wadhwani Opportunity program, which focuses on skilling the talent with 21st-century employability skills, we reached 75,000 frontline healthcare workers to educate them on content that was important to be disseminated at the grassroots level in the states of Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and W. Bengal. The beneficiaries included Asha and Anganwadi workers, GDAs, and Nursing Care workers.

Wadhwani Catalyst, our grant-giving program is focused on scaling like-minded companies to create more livelihoods, and we have given grants to five companies in the healthcare space. One of them, a continuous remote patient monitoring device provider, is currently providing its lifesaving services at 150+ Hospitals with 3500+ Beds, impacting 24,000+ Patients, saving 49,000+ Nursing hours with 550+ timely transfers to save lives. Another one, which is a COVID helpline across 16 states, is staffed with 3000+ non-medical and 7000+ doctor volunteers who have conducted more than 1 million consultations, managing 70,000 calls a day.

On May 8 2021, the Wadhwani Foundation and its group company Symphony AI procured an emergency shipment of oxygen concentrators from Israel for use amongst employees, families and the larger community in India to help in dealing with the second COVID wave. We are also planning to pick key entities doing yeoman work in the current wave to receive donations from our Founder, Dr Romesh Wadhwani.

In short, we are committed; we will act and try to make a difference in healthcare in our country.

Wadhwani Advantage recently launched Acceleration Program with its goal to strengthen the healthcare business ecosystem. Give us an insight into how this program works.
The program is aimed at empowering the entrepreneurs with capabilities to grow. We offer a personalised advisory service to deliver AI-enabled automated discovery and transformation tools to SMEs, which will allow them to discover, prioritise their problems by identifying root causes and the potential impact on their economics and employment. Our program gives access to knowledge, tools, and other learning objects such as videos, articles, etc. and also a curated network of experts and mentors, with no or subsidised cost to these SMEs, using our web and mobile technology platform GENIE. The Wadhwani Foundation does not charge a penny to these SMEs despite offering real, practical and world-class products aimed at transforming their businesses. We hand-hold the SMEs for a year and have set up a help desk to answer their queries thereafter.

Make in India is a major national program of the GOI designed to gain momentum for investment, innovation and enhance skill development and build best in class manufacturing in the country. What is the impact of this program on the healthcare sector?
“Make in India” is a very positive development for the MSME sector. The healthcare sector can gain a lot through the proper implementation of the “Make in India” program’s objectives. Especially the Medical Devices sector stands to gain. The current COVID-19 crisis and the corresponding restrictions and challenges due to global supply chain disruptions highlighted the importance of  “Make in India” for the sector. India was well supported in the first wave through the MSME sector. They were able to scale up the manufacturing capacities to meet the high demand in certain product categories. The current market size of the medical devices industry in India is estimated to be $11 bn. Potentially, it could quadruple in 10 years if we can solve the problems of scale that need to focus on the consistent quality of our products, quantity and quality of talent, and cluster infrastructure to cater to global demand. But, to make the projected growth a reality, the government and other key stakeholders must work together and make some systemic changes.

While 100% FDI is allowed under the automatic route for both Brownfield and Greenfield setups, the reality is that there have been fewer than the expected numbers of investments. There is a need to push for a lot more to set up manufacturing facilities in India. The government can support the medical devices MSMEs by helping them get investments for their equipment and technology needs and set up large scale clusters of infrastructure needed for the players to build scale.

FDI inflow will also spur R&D and manufacturing innovations. This will help in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of medical devices manufactured in India. Government can expand access to funding for innovation for medical devices innovators. Government can also provide facilities in public hospitals to serve as testbeds for innovative medical products for clinical validation. However, for Indian MSMEs to be the leaders, the government needs to promote and set up technical training and skill transfer initiatives urgently without reinventing the wheel. There are stakeholders like Wadhwani Foundation which focus on actively developing strategies and making inroads to make it happen.

Are you collaborating with the government to overhaul MSMEs, SMEs, startups and entrepreneurs?
We are partnering with the prestigious organisations and platforms that matter in shaping the future of healthcare in India. Government collaboration is absolutely necessary if we were to make a large scale systemic impact, and we are making progress there.

The pandemic has fast-forwarded businesses to go digital. What impacts and/or transformations do you see digitization and digitalisation making in healthcare?
There are three shifts. First is that the patient-centricity imperatives are starker than ever, and journey experiences are changing more rapidly than ever. This is altering the landscape of investments and expectations in, patient care, physician management and patient-related data records supported by the huge entry of AI, which is supposed to equip human skills with better analytics and predictive pattern recognition systems, which ultimately should enhance patients improve both longevity and quality of life. It will take time, in my view, about the next 5-10 years before we see a meaningful and wide prevalence of such technologies.

The second is that the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is a connected infrastructure of medical devices, software applications, and health systems and services. IoMT has several good use-cases. IoMT has demonstrated tremendous potential in remote patient monitoring, medication adherence. IoMT can help in more accurate diagnoses, help reduce errors and also help lower costs of care. Globally, it has helped the healthcare industry reduce the need for in-person visits and saving expenses. Again, globally, it is poised for huge growth.

But, when it comes to India, we need to leverage the IoMT, but we need to do a lot before embracing IoMT effectively. The major hindrances are lack of understanding about IoMT, lack of affordable technology for implementations, lack of infrastructure (especially in rural settings where it has most use), and concerns regarding the security and privacy of the data.

The third is that the COVID-19 crisis has made the healthcare stakeholders realize that the patients will prefer virtual and hybrid care in future. This is a major behavioural shift that was forced upon the healthcare ecosystem due to the crisis. The crisis has also highlighted the glaring inadequacy of the traditional healthcare setting. We have all realized the need for alternate channels of delivering care. These two realizations will act as an impetus for virtual care. IoMT can help improve the delivery of care in a virtual setting. IoMT can help in promoting and sustaining this growing trend. In a virtual setting, the doctors would need and demand additional patient health data. This is the need of the hour. Healthcare stakeholders need to leverage the strength of IoMT to promote and sustain virtual care. The hospitals will have to collaborate with the technology vendors to develop relevant use-cases. The potential of IoMT in India is there to grab.

There is a gap in the skillset required for the adoption of digital. How is the Wadhwani Foundation bridging this gap? What is the roadmap proposed by the Foundation?
Skills need to be segmented into two dimensions. The first is what needs to be unlearnt and what needs to be learnt. The second is whether how fast, customised the reskilling or upskilling should be, given that the learners are heterogeneous in their economic, social, educational and psychological profiles. This makes it complex, and outcomes are anybody’s guess. I think when it comes to digital skills, we have a long way to go. There is a gap in ownerships, entrepreneurship, understanding of the skills, application, adoption, habit formation, and investments—all need to be bridged. At the foundation, as I mentioned earlier, we are trying to bridge the gap in some of these through Advantage, Opportunity and Catalyst programs

With the world under siege and a countrywide lockdown due to COVID-19, the lives and economies are going through a tough time. Your message for the industry to emerge through this tough time?
If it comes to one message, I would say, stay together, stay resilient and be prepared. Encourage group thinking to address the situation at hand. This is not the time of lone power centres of intelligence and command but is the time for crowdsourcing intelligence and action.


Source: Healthcare Radius Magazine