The patient or healthcare data in India is fragmented to the point that Indian healthtech startups in advanced specialisations, management systems and data analytics almost always have to look at overseas markets for business. In order to streamline this, majority of the industry experts and healthcare professionals suggested for a policy level change or initiative such as National Health Stack (NHS), a shared digital infrastructure, which would essentially facilitate collection of comprehensive healthcare data across the country and have a bigger impact on healthtech landscape, similar to other India Stack, including Aadhaar, UPI, Digilocker, digital banking and account aggregator which has transformed fintech, digital payments and commerce to a large extent in the country.
Already in progress, last month, Niti Aayog launched a blueprint of NHS, which is expected to provide foundational components that will be required across ‘Ayushman Bharat’ and other healthcare programmes in the country. This initiative is said to provide a mechanism through which every user participating in the system can be uniquely identified.
In line with this, the healthtech giant GE Healthcare through its state-of-the-art startup initiative Edison[X], which was launched in late 2019, has been working on integrating data, workflows and generation of insights from these data streams in a hospital setting, which is said to address the data fragmentation problem at a primary level across the country.
The company told Inc42 that its Edison[X] programme was built on two things — learning how to collaborate with an upcoming startup such that everybody benefits from the partnership, and building a culture, a structure, and a process, to provide that one can design for innovation and that this can be a repeatable exercise that anyone in the ecosystem can follow, particularly focusing on the point of care and precision medicine landscape in India.
Citing the example of automated analysis of radiology images, which was introduced in its Cohort 1 of Edison programme, Dileep Mangsuli, CTO, GE Healthcare, South Asia, said that it took some of the workload off of the resources that were most stretched, particularly the specialist doctors, which reduced bandwidth for them to see more patients in a day, thereby making specialised attention more accessible and affordable.
For instance, GE Healthcare’s Edison[X] backed startup DeepTek, which provides AI-assisted smart reporting on lung X-rays to expedite the diagnosis of various ailments — the sign-off from a certified radiologist was built into the workflow. Similarly, another startup, Orbo, which works on image enhancement, when applied to radiology, allowed the processing of radiology images to be done on a generic tablet, which is much cheaper than a specialised device. In other words, this brought down the overall cost of treatment, significantly.
The Multiplier Effect In Healthtech
In June 2020, GE Healthcare completed its first cohort, where it ensured to successfully integrate startups’ solutions with its Edison platform. “We will continue to work with the Cohort 1 startups even after the Demo Day and we are in the midst of putting together an alumni programme that enables startups to continue working with GE Healthcare and provide access to high-quality advice from technical and business mentors,” Mangsuli pointed out, highlighting the enduring relationship with the selected startups.
The selected startups in the Cohort 1 of Edison[X] programme include 5C Network, DeepTek, Orbo, Predible Health and Synapsica. 5C Network and Predible Health were among the healthtech startups selected in Inc42’s startup watchlist for 2020.
Covid-19 will push many of these startups to steeper growth trajectories, but there has already been robust growth, according to Mangsuli. Within one year of its launch, DeepTek witnessed $1 Mn in revenue in February 2020. The company raised $1 Mn in funding from a group of investors led by Green House Ventures (GHV) in May 2020. Last month, it signed a Letter of Intent with the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Enterprise (CIIE) at Savitribai Phule Pune University to collaborate on Covid-19 related research.
Another GE Healthcare-backed startup Synapsica was selected in Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 cohort, which saw record participation of Indian startups. In April 2020, computer vision and machine learning startup Orbo was acquired by a US-based AI research startup Gemia Inc.
Edison[X] Startups Pivot For Covid-19
During the course of Cohort 1, GE Healthcare said that two of the startups collaborated to build a solution to speed up the Covid-19 testing process. Predible Health, which provides AI-assisted structured reporting on lung CT images, collaborated with 5C Network, which has a teleradiology platform, to build an automated workflow to diagnose Covid-19. The company claimed that this solution brought the turnaround time for diagnosis down drastically.
Similarly, Synapsica, which was refining a solution for Spine MRIs, pivoted and used its expertise to build a solution to scan lung X-Ray images and diagnose Covid-19.
DeepTek, on the other hand, has built an end-to-end tool to scan X-Ray and CT scans and report findings, and also issue alters to ensure faster contact tracing and testing. Further, it developed a model for community spread of the disease which is key to developing focused strategies to localise and arrest spread.
Coming to the post-Covid reality, GE Healthcare said that the digital-first approach taken by the startups selected in Cohort 1 has helped them become more relevant during the current slowdown. “While they are not immune to the recession in the markets, as we adjust to the new normal and virtual hospitals and telemedicine become more widely accepted, these startups are best placed to plug into the healthcare system and start serving patients, said Mangsuli.
Finding Synergies With GE’s Partners
Besides nurturing the healthcare startups in the country and working with them to create healthcare solutions using GE’s state-of-the-art platform and decades of expertise, Mangsuli told Inc42 that Edison[X] is not about tapping the opportunity of the current market and a point-in-time exercise but a journey of collaboration.
“Our stated objective has been to explore sustainable partnerships with our cohort members wherever possible. Each of these startups are working in areas that are extremely relevant to GE and our customers. These solutions are complementary to our offerings and address significant healthcare challenges that exist today.”
Through Edison[X], the startups continue to work with GE Healthcare. It’s not just about accelerating product development. GE Healthcare is in talks with strategic customers to deploy pilots. It also supports innovation by providing technical inputs to startups from senior scientists accessible, and helping startups reach the market through GE Healthcare’s large network. Both these inputs together help reduce the go-to-market time.
The Edision[X] programme allows GE also to reach new markets in conjunction with the startups, adjacent to existing GE Healthcare offerings. In addition to this, Mangsuli told Inc42 that GE also looks to offer its existing customers the choice of partnering with the startups to take their solutions to market and offer them an opportunity to scale up quickly. In a way, the company believes that this adds value for GE Healthcare, its customers and startups, which is a win-win situation for all involved.
The New Face Of Healthtech
Currently, GE Healthcare is gearing up for Cohort 2, which will be announced in September. It claims to have received 150 applications for the second batch. “The selection process will involve multiple rounds of discussions with candidates and internal deliberation by technical and business leadership to assess the startups on the quality of their solution and their fit with the programme mandate,” the CTO said.
With its Cohort 2, GE Healthcare said that it will be expanding the use-cases to include non-clinical use-cases such as data-workflow integration, data management, demand-supply forecasting and automated patient scheduling, workload/workflow simulations, equipment usage insights among others. Again, these are areas that Indian healthcare desperately needs innovation in.
Apart from access to 1:1 technical mentoring and validation of their solution, startups will also gain access to Edison resources to deploy their solutions on the Edison platform. “There is also a $10K equity-free cash grant that is paid to each startup that is part of the cohort,” added Mangsuli.
Optimistic about the future of healthtech in India, Mangsuli believes that in the next two-three years, it will be adding 20-25 startups as part of this vibrant ecosystem, together addressing critical healthcare challenges. “Over a longer-term, we would like to explore collaborations with other ecosystem players such as late-stage startups, industry bodies, academia, etc. through highly customised yet structured programmes,” added Mangsuli.
GE and Edison will be looking to scale it up to address more use-cases and critical healthcare challenges, identifying scope to leverage collaborations with other ecosystem players, and expanding to other geographies.