Healthcare Automation Looking Up In India

Automation is gradually but surely penetrating Indian healthcare, though at a slower pace than in other industries. Along with new technological trends, burgeoning healthcare industry growth in recent years is helping to drive the adoption of higher levels of automation in healthcare delivery.

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The healthcare industry in India is growing at a rapid pace, at around 20 per cent per annum year-on-year. The Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) reports that the Indian healthcare market is currently estimated at US$34.2 billion. And according to Technopak Advisors, in its report, “India Healthcare Trends 2008,” healthcare is expected to reach more than $75 billion by 2012 and $150 billion by 2017.

Some estimates put healthcare spending at 8 per cent of Indian gross domestic product (GDP) by 2012, when an estimated $1.5 billion will be spent on medical equipment, of which more than 80 per cent will go toward high-tech medical equipment, devices and automation.

“The mass of healthcare professionals in India is unmatched by any other nation in the world. India is also one of only a few locations in the world with the latest in healthcare technologies, including automation, surgical robotics, modular operating theatres, minimal access surgery systems, telemedicine, radiology and the like,” says Pankaj Narula, director and head of business development, SNG-Swisslog.
Although Indian hospitals and healthcare providers excel in many segments, intra-facility logistics and materials management remain largely untouched by the latest innovations in automation of healthcare logistics, materials transportation and supply chain.

Automation needed

Given the current situation, India doesn't have anywhere go but to automate the healthcare industry to tap its potential to the maximum, many observers believe. According to a study by McKinsey and the Confederatio of Indian Industry (CII), medical tourism—the practice of traveling across international borders to obtain health care—could become a $2 billion industry in India by 2012, up from $350 million in 2006. Credit Suisse estimates medical tourism to be growing at between 25 percent and 30 per cent annually.

A recent FICCI-Ernst and Young (E&Y) report titled, “Opportunities in Healthcare Destination India,” stated that currently the medical equipment industry is around $2.2 billion and is growing at 15 per cent per year. It is estimated to reach $5 billion by 2012. Because almost 65 per cent of the medical equipment is imported, it is a key area for forging partnerships across borders. “The Government of India is working on medical devices legislation, in order to standardize the quality of Indian manufactured medical devices,” said sources in the government.

Indian hospitals have realized that information technology (IT) can be an effective tool toward efficient systems. According to a report by Springboard Research, India has the fastest growing healthcare IT market in Asia, with an expected growth rate of 22 per cent, followed closely by China and Vietnam. In fact, the Indian healthcare IT market is poised to be worth more than $254 million by 2012.

Fragmented market

However, there are hurdles to the widespread growth of the market. The healthcare IT provider base is highly fragmented and dominated by a large number of very small players. Hence, IT uptake is limited to custom-developed software for areas such as billing and patient scheduling. The health insurance segment is just picking up steam and large players are emerging.

According to Mohammad Naseem, Head of IBM’s Healthcare Practice in India, the computerization of healthcare record keeping remains both a need and a challenge in India. Healthcare is moving in the direction of computerization. “IBM’s focus is on developing applications and solutions that will address the growing need for automation in revenue management, performance management and patient care systems in hospitals,” he says.
Former Indian President and engineer APJ Abdul Kalam in “India: Vision 2020,” a Master Plan for Indian development, says: “India should become a coveted healthcare destination.”

About the author

Uday Lal Pai, udaylalpai@gmail.com, is a freelance journalist based in India.

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