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Startups that make healthcare more affordable, accessible will succeed: Ex-US health official

26 Oct 2022

Many Indian digital healthcare startups are focussed on accessibility and affordability, said David Shulkin, former US secretary of veterans affairs, who currently advises Indegene on using digital tools to help life sciences companies.

Given the Indian government’s push on using technology in healthcare, this may be an opportune time for India and the US to come closer together, former US secretary of veterans affairs David Shulkin has said.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed healthcare in the US and around the world and has accelerated digital transformation, Shulkin told Moneycontrol. He was on a week-long visit to India recently, a year after joining Indegene, a Bengaluru-based digital-first, life sciences commercialisation company.

“Virtual care and using data to collect information on patients became a necessity in the pandemic, when people were not able to come into the hospital and do things the old way,” he said.

Shulkin said there may be more such changes globally in the next three years, adding that this has allowed the governments of both India and the US to announce major initiatives and change healthcare.

While India’s National Health Authority under the health ministry has announced a big data interoperability programme – Ayushman Bharat Digital Health Mission – aimed at creating digital data infrastructure, the US is also doing something very similar, said Shulkin.

“This will create opportunities for the two countries to actually work together and to be able to help share data, do more research, discover and find different ways of treating patients,” he said.

According to Shulkin, the work related to Covid-19 vaccines in the US and India is a good example of what can be achieved to meet the needs of populations quickly if the government and private companies work together.

Shulkin said the emergence of hundreds of startups in the healthcare sector over the past few years in India is a good sign and the opportunity for them is to solve problems of accessibility and affordability. Many digital health startups are targeted towards these two issues, he said.

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“When you use virtual care or digital tools, you’re addressing access to healthcare, you’re where people previously had to enter hospitals or go to expensive clinics. They’re able to get back here now in their home or not having to travel because they can use remote care, virtual care,” he said.

Digital tools also address the issue of affordability, according to Shulkin. Earlier, many people were needed to attend to a patient, but now the cost of delivering the service can be brought down and it becomes far more affordable.

“So I think the successful startups are going to be the ones that are solving those problems,” he said.

Shulkin was former chief executive officer of hospitals in the US, including Beth Israel in New York and Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey.