Imagine a scenario wherein patients can stay at home and the operating theatre goes to them to take care of the medical problem. Imagine a wearable device that predicts an impending heart attack in the wearer, urging them to seek early intervention. Or a doctor's room equipped with a device like Alexa. Imagine there is a patient with end-stage cancer and the device can listen to the conversation and is intelligent enough to access every breakthrough in cancer and come back to educate the doctor on possible evaluations.
These are not examples of what healthcare will look like in the future but something we can expect to see in a few years. And if you are not convinced, just look at the shrinking turnaround time for new drugs—we were witness to it last year. The COVID-19 vaccine made what was to come in the future, possible today.
Healthcare is changing for everyone and technology can radically change the way healthcare is delivered. Let me share some quantifiers. If we look at the healthcare system, the biggest pain point for nurses is record-keeping. If technology could take over this task, freeing up their time, what would they do with 80%, 50%, or even 30% extra time? The answer is simple: they will use the time to take care of patients.
Digital health is pro-patient in a way healthcare has never been. I highly recommend the book The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands by Dr Eric Topol. Dr Topol writes about how digital will do for healthcare what the printing press did for publishing, calling it the Gutenberg movement. He talks about medicine moving away from its current paternalistic approach toward the patient.
This future of digital health has already arrived. The unofficial ambassador for this is the Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie when she proactively made a healthcare decision. It was an intelligent system that revealed the likelihood of breast cancer for her. She decided to undergo a double mastectomy before the cancer set in. Her choice was perhaps between the quality of life and longevity, and she chose the latter, a rational choice given her familial responsibilities. Placing this choice in the individual’s hands has never been seen in healthcare before. And while technology may not give absolute answers or take away the probability of error, it can be relied upon to inform people sufficiently so that they can make a rational decision, as Angelina Jolie did.
I had already been in healthcare consulting for 11 years when digital health was beginning to grow as an exciting space. I used to read everything I could get my hands on about the subject. In addition, my earlier exposures to Executive Education Program at Harvard Business School, Patient Experience Conference at the Cleveland Clinic, and my experience working with some leading global healthcare institutions had given me good exposure to both problems and solution frameworks. I was increasingly motivated to venture into healthtech and started TalkDoc.AI to build a natural language processing (NLP)-based tool that would function as a doctor’s assistant. I was planning to take it to the global market when COVID-19 arrived and put a stop to my plans.
As luck would have it, I was then introduced to Anandat Indegene and subsequently met Manish and Sameer (Lal). In my first conversation with Anand, he spoke of artificial intelligence, NLP, future ready healthcare, and the technologies Indegene was working on. It certainly seemed next gen. Listening to him talk about futuristic technology, I felt I had been staring at the tip of the iceberg while these guys were looking at the entire iceberg!
Added to that, the fact that Indegene offered a very entrepreneurial work environment meant that leaving a start-up would not mean giving up my preferred way of working. There are boundaries within which one operates, but within that, there is a lot of fluidity. I was desirous of working on a global mandate and was given the task of devising Go-to-Market Strategy for Medical Technology Innovations. It is rare to meet leaders like Sameer, who patiently and personally spent time with me to get me onboard with the mandate. I felt I had been handed what I wanted on a platter, the opportunity to work in healthtech, in an environment that was entrepreneurial and yet corporate, with a well-powered engine and resources to match.
I am excited by the tools we have and the purpose that this industry offers me. In my first conversation with Manish, he had asked, "Forget pharma. What are you looking at in the future of healthcare?" Right there was a vision, beyond what is visible today. I want to be here, at Indegene, as we take that leap into the future.