With healthcare sectors across the world warming up to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) for better diagnosis and precise treatments, healthtech startups in India are unleashing its potential to the fullest. On World Stroke Day (October 30), the focus turns to solutions that can make an impactful difference. In the Indian market, Hyderabad-based BeAble is pioneering work in this regard by gamifying stroke rehabilitation.
The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad-incubated startup which went through the centre for healthcare entrepreneurship (CfHE) incubator programme, seeks to make the task of exercising of the upper arm from being a chore for patients to being fun and exciting.
Founded by Habib Ali in 2017, the startup’s flagship device, ArmAble, consists of a console which will have several games playing out one after another, where patients have to move a bar to control subjects.
“Stroke patients who suffer from paralysis of the arm are particularly advised to perform regular exercises. However, traditional therapies tend to be tiring and boring. Consequently, patients do not perform their exercises fully. Currently, patients, on average, do 30-40 repetitions of movements in a day. This is hardly enough. Research suggests that they need 400-600 repetitions of the movements every day,” Ali told Inc42 on World Stroke Day.
World Stroke Day Brings Focus On Tech For Recovery
Stroke is a leading cause of disability world over. In India alone, more than 1.8 million cases of strokes are reported every year. Worse, more than 80% of patients suffered weakness or paralysis of one side of the body, which requires physiotherapy and other rehab work.
To solve the problem of rehab becoming a chore or dull for patients, BeAble launched ArmAble, its flagship product for hospitals and recovery centres. It is priced at around INR 3 Lakh and thanks to the price, the startup’s customer base consists largely of institutions and hospitals. But Ali told us, the startup is looking at a subscription or rental model for patients and individuals.
“We are trying to work on the business model and give it for rent to patients at INR 10K per month. There is no such thing as a ‘disabled’ person, there are only bad design and disabled technology.”
As part of the IIT-Hyderabad CfHE’s first cohort in 2016, BeAble not only secured the right support system to build its products but also a platform to show it to the market.
Before founding the startup, Ali and team spent a year figuring out the problem and analysing the market to understand how they could launch the medical device. The ArmAble idea received a grant from the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) and soon BeAble started working on five different versions for the prototype. Even though ArmAble is being sold to hospitals, Ali said the product is far from ready.
“Currently we are at the alpha stage where we give out devices to select users. We take feedback from patients and modify our products regularly according to their requirements,” he told Inc42.
BeAble plans to sell the ArmAble commercially by January 2020. But that’s just the beginning — it is currently performing clinical studies in Manipal and parallelly looking at different centres across the country to take validation studies. These studies would establish the effectiveness of the device.
It also plans to launch around 15-20 products or variants in the rehabilitation space over the next five years. Besides ArmAble, it’s currently finalising work on a prototype product that will make exercising legs easier and more fun for recovery patients.
Can Healthtech Solutions Help Indians Battle Stroke?
Besides BeAble, a few other healthtech startups in India are working towards stroke rehabilitation, diagnosis or recovery currently.
Founded in 2013 by Vipul Jain, Advancells, for example, focusses on making stem cell therapy affordable for those recovering from stroke and other diseases. The Noida-based startup provides regenerative therapy in India for diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and heart disease, besides stroke. Through its proprietary technique, it collects bone marrow from a patient, separates the stem cells and processes it in a lab for further procedures.
Another startup working to help improve recovery and diagnosis is Qure.ai, which applies AI and deep learning models to study radiology images for quick diagnosis of diseases.
Cofounded by data scientist Pooja Rao and IIT alumnus Prashant Warier in 2016, the startup detects clinically-relevant abnormal trauma findings from X-rays, CT Scans and MRIs at a very fast pace.
“Patients treated within 90 minutes from a stroke caused by traumatic brain injury (TBI) onset have an increased odds of improvement at 24 hours and favourable three-month outcome compared to patients treated later than 90 minutes,” said CEO Warier told Inc42 earlier this year.
The Long Road For India’s Healthtech Startups
Despite baby steps to improve diagnostics, recovery and rehabilitation in critical diseases, Indian healthcare has yet to become revolutionised by technology, the way consumer services have.
While many startups are using predictive analytics and ML to create diagnostic tools that could help specialists diagnose faster and more accurately, the problems remains one of access. The commercial use of AI is expected to reach $36.1 Bn by 2025 at a CAGR of 50.2% by 2025. AI has a lot of potential in India as, according to the WHO, India needs 2.3Mn certified doctors by 2030 to maintain the minimum doctor-patient ratio.
Currently, however, the healthtech startup industry is at a nascent stage and thus facing three main challenges. Like any other startup, getting venture capital funding is the biggest challenge faced by healthtech startups. While government funding helps them at the initial stage, use of technology in healthcare works out to be more expensive than other fields.
Another challenge faced is the regulatory scenario in India which is still at an initial stage thus leading to a lack of quality standards. Third biggest challenge faced by these startups are getting the right partners for executing clinical studies, which is also proving very hard with lack of opportunities to test products before approaching partners for trials.
BeAble has done the hard work in this regard with its partner hospitals and is close to launching its device commercially, to get their innovation off the ground. Will this set off the healthtech revolution in India?