Is the Indian medical technology landscape evolving?

As India treads forward in improving its healthcare setup, the role of technology is going to remain crucial. It is technology that will aid better healthcare and improve affordability, thus making quality healthcare a right than a luxury

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During 1990, India’s healthcare accessibility and quality (HAQ) index stood at a worrying 24.7. And, 26 years later, India’s HAQ index almost doubled to 41.2. While India is much below the global average 53.7, the stark improvement in quality and accessibility is notable. At the cusp of becoming a developed nation, India, an emerging economy, has ridden on technology to soar through the HAQ index.

As we speak of this, there must be a hospital or a doctor making headlines for successfully completing a complicated procedure. About two decades ago, undergoing an open-heart surgery would send shivers down the spine, for not just the patient, but the entire family. And today, we advanced so much that complicated transplant like lungs has become possible, that too with high success rates. The credit for these go to the unsurmountable talent pool in India, the boom of private healthcare, and support from governments (both state and union).

As India treads forward in improving its healthcare setup, the role of technology is going to remain crucial. It is technology that will aid better healthcare and improve affordability, thus making quality healthcare a right than a luxury. Let’s take a look at what lies ahead in the next few years that will open fresh doors for the Indian medical technology market, and the hurdles that could stunt growth.

Opportunities

The Indian medical technology market is still nascent, finds a recent report by Transparency Market Research (TMR). While the last few years have been promising, the growth rate is still reluctantly stagnant. However, the new government in 2014 has made attempts to plug some gaps in the Indian medical technology market through some policy changes. On the other hand, the rapidly developing private healthcare sector, and medical tourism are creating new benchmarks in global medicine.

100% FDI in Medical Technology

One of the most spoken and appreciated moves of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government in healthcare was to allow 100% foreign direct investment in medical technology. In the last 15-20 years, the spur in Indian medical technology has been due to heavy import of equipment and sophisticated technology. While this may have drastically improved quality of healthcare, it also did sky-rocket the expenses. For instance, an MRI scan in a prominent private hospital is likely to cost INR 7,500 on average. This is because hospitals are procuring the equipment from foreign manufacturers.

Having said this, it does not mean that the Indian medical technology market does not have the potential to develop its own equipment. But, investing in technology that already exists would only result in loss of resources, time, and money. This, leaves most keen players in the Indian medical technology market awaiting regulatory change that allows foreign brands to invest in India. With 100% FDI enforced in 2015, the Indian medical technology market has started gathering pace. As prominent foreign brands show interest in investing in India, the Indian medical technology market will gain pace further. The key to success will lie in critical partnerships with the right foreign brands.

Ever Booming Private Healthcare

The public healthcare in India continue to struggle meeting the basic needs like accessibility and affordability. While governments battle out the problems revolving around the primary healthcare needs of a 1.35 billion population, the private setup of the Indian healthcare seems to have reduced the burden extensively. The 21st century in Indian healthcare has been about the booming private healthcare. With a substantial pool of qualified and talented doctors coupled with soaring investments, the private healthcare setup has managed to put in place world-class global hospitals.

If the Indian medical technology market begins to roll out products, then the private healthcare will be one of the first to procure them. With overflowing patient population, the demand for sophisticated diagnostic and treatment procedures are only steeply rising. Further, the growing focus on painless treatment, will fuel the demand for products in the medical technology market.

The Rising Influx of Medical Tourists

Healthcare in the U.S. or the U.K., or rather in one of the developed nations is undoubtedly expensive for a patient from an under-developed or a developing nation. This prompts them to look at other viable options and India surfaces on the top of the list. There are several reasons that faintly, in the background, keep niggling the patient in-flow, but on the top of it are two critical factors. The blitzkrieg in India’s private healthcare which vouches for its ever-improving healthcare quality, and at the same time the cultural similarity for patients from the Middle East.

According to India’s ministry of tourism, the number of medical tourists doubled from 2.34 lakh in 2015 to 4.95 lakh in 2017. At the same time, it is important to note that, 2.21 of these 4.95 lakh tourists in 2017 were from Bangladesh, and more than 55,000 were from Afghanistan. India is also the preferred destination of treatment among patients from Sudan, Oman, Maldives, Yemen, and Uzbekistan.

Organ Transplant to Stir Demand

India’s organ transplant success dates back exactly 25 years when doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Science carried out a heart transplant. It is important to note here that the first attempt for organ transplant was made in 1964 at the King Edward Hospital in Mumbai. The lack of infrastructure took India three decades to succeed in organ transplantation. But since 1994, things have begun to change, and the credit goes to India’s former prime minister and then finance minister Manmohan Singh who liberalized India’s economy.

From then, India’s leaped several milestones when it comes to organ transplantation. An organ transplantation requires sophisticated equipment right from the stage of harvesting the organs to transplanting them. Further, the post-operative care is also more sophisticated than in case of regular procedures. As doctors collectively agree that a transplant is more efficient than other existing treatments, the rising incidence of cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, and liver conditions will keep nudging the need for better medical technology.

Research Gathers Pace

Top-notch medical educational institutions have already invested in creating testing facilities that will facilitate bio-medical research. Instrumentation is expected to be a significant proportion of upcoming projects. With world-class animal testing facilities, prominent academic institutions which have super-specialty hospitals are roping in Indian talent from abroad to help indigenize medical technology. This trend, with substantial funding and the right government support, will result in a bunch of Indian brands emerging in the Indian medical technology market.

The Picture is Not Rosy – Lack of Regulations Loom as a Challenge

The Indian medical technology sector is just beginning to root. In the last couple of years, the intent among the players and the government looks positive. However, most prospective players in the Indian medical technology market are wary about the regulations. Reports state that the prevailing norms that regulate research and manufacturing of medical technology and equipment are bureaucratic and do not fit the current system. This calls for a fresh body and regulations that will aid ease-of-business in medical technology.

Having said that, the government of India has showed positive intent towards facilitating research in medical technology. It has also aided institutions with financial support for research, and has introduced the 100% FDI policy for medical technology. This said, the next step would be in creating a dedicated governing body that regulates research and manufacturing in the Indian medical technology market. Recent reports suggest that steps might be taken once research activities begin to show results. TMR report suggests that as more institutions come forward in launching medical technology ventures, the Indian medical technology market will begin to bloom in the coming years.


About Author: Adarsh Jain is an Assistant Team Lead at the Transparency Market Research. The quest to find answers to his deep curiosity in biological processes led Adarsh to pursue engineering in biotechnology. While science experiments intimidated him, he discovered his love for writing. Adarsh who writes on health, science, education, technology, and business, has got five years of experience in the domain.


*The views expressed by the author are his own.